Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Davis Cup: The Fab Four vs Sweden

Updated September 25, 2007

"I'm so proud to be part of this team, I'm so proud of my teammates, I wouldn't trade this team for any in the world. I love these guys." — Andy Roddick

1st Singles: Roddick def J. Johansson 7-6(4) 7-6(3) 6-3
2nd Singles: T. Johansson def Blake 6-4 6-2 3-6, 6-3
Doubles: Bryan/Bryan def Aspelin/Bjorkman 7-6(11) 6-2 6-3
1st Reverse Singles: Roddick def Bjorkman 6-2 7-6(3) 6-4
2nd Reverse Singles: Blake def Aspelin 6-1 6-3

USA 4 - Sweden 1

Last dance: USA to meet defending Davis Cup champions Russia in the final (U.S. venue to be announced soon, rumored to be Portland, Oregon). Read: Sneak preview of USA/Russia final.


The Closer


"Davis Cup Andy" has become my favorite version of Andy Roddick. It's like he's reborn during these short weekends. Gone is the slouching, the question mark stamped on his forehead, the wimpy forehand, the clumsy footwork, and the ever-present raincloud of self-doubt hanging over his head. Come Davis Cup time it's magic time – abracadabra! – the new and improved Andy Roddick that we've been hearing about finally shows up. The back is straighter, the head is held higher, and his play is more cohesive and finely tuned. His backhand, the Jimmy Connors backhand that his coaches have been tweaking and working on forever, looked stronger than ever and is looking less like a liability. His serve was ripping. His return game was actually impressive(!). A new quirk has emerged: the Roddick grunt. This version of Andy struts around in peacock mode, his feather plummage looking bright and shiny and happy. I find that I rarely worry about Davis Cup Andy because you know that the good Andy will show up here. There is also no Darth Federer lurking anywhere around these corners. In Davis Cup, the old Andy Roddick is the new Andy Roddick. Love it.

"What can we say? Death, taxes, and Andy Roddick in Davis Cup." — Tennis Channel commentator, Leif Shiras, to Davis Cup captain, Patrick McEnroe, on the three sure things in life.

DOWNLOAD Davis Cup match highlights here (video courtesy of claire. Thanks, claire!)

Here are some animated .gifs I made to celebrate Andy clinching the tie. Feel free to use.


"We played the world's best national team, and they proved that." — Sweden Davis Cup captain Mats Wilander.

Andy's reverse singles opponent Jonas Bjorkman had some interesting things to say about Andy's evolving game:
Q. It wasn't your return that failed today; it was very good.

JONAS BJORKMAN: Yeah, I think everyone speaks about Andy's serve, and obviously it is really, really good, but I think sometimes they don't give him enough credit on making a lot of returns himself. He definitely put the ball in play a lot. I can say, if I can find the right way, sometimes it doesn't look that he moves well, but he does. Sort of the way he moves, long steps, it looks maybe sometimes not so smooth, but he's always there.

Like I said, everyone speaks about his serve, but I think sometimes they forget about the variety of his game. He actually has good movement back from the baseline and also he makes a lot of returns.

Q. You hadn't played him in three years. Would you say that variety is much greater now than the last time you played?

JONAS BJORKMAN: I think he always has been a great mover because, you know, with his game, he's always been a great fighter. I think that's probably been the same. I think his backhand is much better now. I would say when I played him three years ago, you felt that if you came in on a good approach, it was really tough for him to make a pass. I think now he's much more confident to hit it.

I think what might be the difference is that he returns better. He definitely puts a lot of balls back. Maybe he don't get enough credit because purely everyone looks at his serve.

Q. I don't know if you're aware of this, but he's now 9-0 in Davis Cup matches where he had a chance to clinch the tie.

JONAS BJORKMAN: Good for him.

"This is my number one priority for the rest of the year, and I'll be discussing my tournament schedule with Jimmy (Connors, his coach) and Patrick (McEnroe, the USA captain) to make sure I look after my body and it's right where it needs to be for the final." — Andy Roddick, getting his priorities straight.

James Blake, the King of Dead Rubbers.


There was a news headline I read a while back on James Blake that perfectly encapsulated his career: "The only thing consistent about James Blake is his inconsistency." In Davis Cup away ties, that could also read as, "The only thing reliable about James Blake is his unreliability." He is a top ten player, our No. 2 player behind Roddick, but his dismal record doesn't reflect it.

We all know Mr. Flake has issues about dealing with pressure and whatnot but I'm not going to go off on him like I usually do. For one thing, many of the players, including Blake, were suffering from flu-like symptoms just days/hours before the matches were to begin. As for Patrick McEnroe saying with a straight face during an interview that James "keeps improving" I wouldn't expect anything less from him. We all know that James is the team's weakest link. We know that he blew it (again). We know it, James knows it, and the team knows it. But as DC captain McEnroe has to lift his players when they're down and try to build confidence in them by showing his own confidence in them. Perhaps James will redeem himself in November. The home crowd should help him and he should also invite the J-Block along too, just for good measure.

Other Random News Stuff:


Andy takes a dive
• Andy's dive on the hardcourt vs Marcos Baghdatis at Montreal won the ATP's Mercedes-Benz Play of the Month for August. Click here to view the video of it.

SWF looking for Roddick-type dork to date
• Andy was included in a poll conducted by Yahoo! Personals where singles were asked which celebrity they would most like to date. People magazine's 2006 “Sexiest Man Alive,” George Clooney, received 20 percent of the single female vote. People’s 2005 “Sexiest Man Alive” Matthew McConaughey was not far behind on the list with 13 percent of the vote. Also included on the list: Andy Roddick (5 percent), Derek Jeter (4 percent), and Ricky Martin (3 percent).

Who wrote the music for the Roddick-Lexus commercial?
• I received an e-mail from one Jason Johnson claiming that it was he who wrote the jingle music for Roddick's Lexus commercial "The Big Backup." The .mp3 of that tune can be downloaded for free from his website www.jasonjohnson.com.

The physics of Roddick's serve
• Another e-mail came to me from the online editor of Popular Mechanics who wanted to let me know about an article that has just gone live on their website entitled, "Tennis Physics: Anatomy of a Serve". They break down Andy's serve step by step. Fascinating stuff.

Jimmy Connors in Men's Vogue
Roger Federer is not the only tennis god in vogue. An e-mail from another editor has alerted me to an interview with Jimmy Connors in the September issue of Men's Vogue where naturally they discuss Andy. Says Connors, “He’s a tremendous learner. He’s willing to try things, he’s willing to take things right away and put them in a match situation and do it when it counts. That’s what it always took for me to be the best...It comes down to him and his desire and what it takes to go out there and actually win it. And he’s got it-he’s proven that. He’s got to believe in it and just that little bit more to go out and say ‘Look, I’ve done all the work, I’ve done the preparation.’ He has the talent and the ability to be the best.”

Connors on Roddick's treatment in the press:
"He lost a few matches and the press got down on him, and that kind of crept into his head a little bit, and that was one of the things that led me to be a part of what he's got going, to try to clear that up. Because I've taken a little bit of a hammering myself on about six or seven occasions. And I don't think he deserved it."

Related Davis Cup articles:

• "Don't underestimate Roddick in Davis Cup" [TR.net]
It's easy to see Andy Roddick as someone who was lucky to hit his peak just after the Sampras era and just before the Federer era, a sort of fortuitous interregnum. But when the history of his career comes to be written, his outstanding Davis Cup record ought to merit a shower of praise, and he added to his impressive record in the team variant with a superb win over Sweden's Joachim Johansson in Gothenburg. Firing 30 aces – seven more than PimPim – testified to the serving display. Yet it was Roddick's return game that won him the match.

• "The Russians are coming...to the USA" [DavisCup.org]
Russia’s tennis players will be travelling to the United States in late November in an effort to defend its Davis Cup crown and the Americans will be looking to avenge the heartbreaking defeat they suffered in the semifinals to Russia last year in Moscow

• "US finds itself as favorite in Davis Cup final" [FoxSports.com]
ANDY RODDICK: "It's something we as a team have been dreaming of for a while, having a home final. I think we're all just really excited about the opportunity. I always said, as a kid, I had four dreams that I thought were just completely out of reach that would never be attainable. One was to win the U.S. Open, one was to be No. 1, one was to win Wimbledon, and one was to win the Davis Cup. It's big dreams for a kid, and I don't think I ever thought I'd ever be in the vicinity of that. Now, selfishly, we're here. Chance to get three out of four, it's exciting. It's definitely right up there with anything that I've been able to do."

• "Two down, two to go for Andy Roddick" [411mania.com]
Being the only true U.S. threat for a Grand Slam title is lonely enough, but pursuing these titles in the era of Roger Federer is likely maddening for Andy Roddick.


• "Roddick closes in on Davis Cup dream" [New York Times]
Fifteen years later, Andy Roddick will be expected to do much more than sound a horn at a Davis Cup finals in the United States.

Roddick was 9 years old when the Americans last played host to the finals, in 1992 in Fort Worth. The opponent was Switzerland and the United States assembled one of the finest lineups in history — Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras and John McEnroe.

After suffering through the clang of the Swiss cow bells in the stands on the first day, Roddick and his oldest brother, Lawrence, returned on the second day with air horns and put them to liberal use. The Americans wound up winning, 3-1, unwittingly laying the foundation for future teams.

“That final pretty much changed my life in terms of tennis and wanting to play Davis Cup,” Roddick said later in a television interview.

• "Roddick's revelation; sends US to Davis Cup final" [ESPN]
Roddick on the 1992 US Davis Cup final vs Switzerland: "I wasn't one of these kids raised to be a tennis player at all. But just seeing something like that is pretty powerful. You know, being with the other fans in an arena like that, seeing your heroes play, hearing the anthem for the first time, it really was the first time I'd been at a sporting event which was just, you know, completely about patriotism and that whole thing. I think I fell in love with it then."

• "Roddick leads US into Cup finals" [SI.com]
Roddick is now a perfect 9-0 in clinching Davis Cup series. "I get very nervous," Roddick said. "It's tough in the morning or the night before. But it's a really good feeling when you are able to clinch."

• "Future is now for US in Davis Cup" [International Herald Tribune]
Roddick has never played the will-he-or-won't-he game. Since he joined the team in 2001, he has missed only one match for the United States, which may have affected some of his tournament results but does make him the most committed top American player since John McEnroe.

"I know we talk about it ad nauseam, but I really do love the guys that I play with," Roddick said. "They're like brothers."

• "Roddick worthy of plaudits for Davis Cup prowess" [Sportsticker]
Having watched him closely the past few days in Gothenburg, Sweden, you could see how much the Davis Cup means to Roddick - from his preparation right through his performances to the moment of celebration when he dropped to his knees having put USA into the final.

COMMENT ON THIS POST

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Updated September 21, 2007

1st Singles:
Roddick def J. Johansson
7-6(4) 7-6(3) 6-3
2nd Singles:
T. Johansson def Blake
6-4 6-2 3-6, 6-3
Doubles:
Bryan/Bryan def Aspelin/Bjorkman
7-6(11) 6-2 6-3

Is anyone else not enjoying watching these matches? Not that the quality has been bad but I find it difficult to just sit back and enjoy the spectacle when there's so much riding on the outcome. I'm breathing a little easier now that the Wonder Twins pulled through for us again today. I'm not going to enjoy watching Andy's reverse singles with ToJo at all tomorrow. I don't care that Andy destroyed him at the USO; if ToJo comes out firing the way he did vs Blake then we've got ourselves a bloody dogfight on our hands. I really don't want an exciting, classic five setter, I just want a nice, stress-free, easy win for Andy.

And it's imperative that Russia stop futzing around and win both of their reverse singles tomorrow. We want Russia to win because that means USA will host Russia on home soil (yay!). If Germany wins then they would host USA, most likely on the dreaded clay (boo!).

ESPN reports on today's doubles match and also posted an interesting stat chart about Andy's ability to clinch ties:
A starkly serious Andy Roddick followed every shot intently from the bench. During a couple of breaks in the action, he stood up and leaned over the sideline boards as if he were a hockey player about to hop over for a line switch -- an apt image in the somewhat dimly lit Scandinavium arena, where home ice for the local Frolunda Indians club lies underneath the temporary court.

"Andy said it was the most nervous he's ever been at a Davis Cup tie," Bob Bryan said. "Every time I looked over there, I could see him kind of shaking. He's a pretty high-strung guy. He probably would like to be out there serving it out himself."

Hearing this makes me nervous. I don't want Andy to get himself so riled up that he makes himself sick to his stomach, as happened last year during his DC match with Andrei Pavel of Romania.

With regards to Andy's first match with Pim-Pim and James' match with ToJo, I will let a fellow tennishead, tinamarie, who saw the match live do the talking:
1:1 is not at all what I expected. The biggest surprises for me was PimPim's level of play after such a long break (however, the match didn't really feel close) and James Blake's attitude on court...I haven't seen many of his matches, so maybe that's normal for him, but he was just so negative. He seemed extremly annoyed with anything: ballboys, fans, umpires... I guess playing a Davis Cup match abroad isn't easy and maybe he was even right about some calls from the umpires, but I would still think a top ten player can handle such a difficult situation. Cursing, even hitting a ball towards some loud Swedish fans and -more generally- a completly negative body language wasnt at all what I expected from him. For me, it was amazing to see how much body langaue can tell you about the course of the match. Right before JB broke TJ in the third set, he was bouncing a little, running from his chair to the baseline, just showing some energy. and it was somehow clear to us he would take the next games. Afterall, he is a better player than TJ. But some errors in the beginning of the 4th set and his negative attitude was back. You could literally see that he wasn't going to win this match. And I am sorry to say this - but he really wouldn't have deserved it, either. [. . .]

To complete my report though, I really have to give a lot of credit to Andy. His level of intensity and focus was amazing. Great body language, too. The crowd never really got into the match. One reason was that there hardly were any rallies; the points were unsually decided by serve. The other reason was that the match didn't seem as close as the scores might suggests. Not to take anything away from PimPim (Joachim Johansson), but I never had the feeling he could actually win. He made some great shots, but never really threatened Andy on his serve and made a lot of errors on big points. A couple of times, he had beautifully prepared a winner and then netted. Andy, on the other hand, never choked on big points and kept his great level of serve from the first to the last point of the match. Very impressive.

Great write-up, thanks tinamarie!

Related Davis Cup articles:
• "US men get the team concept" [SI.com]
• "Don't underestimate Roddick in Davis Cup" [TR.net]
• "Steve Tignor's Davis Cup preview" [Tennis.com]
• "USA's colorful history against Sweden" [Peter Bodo, ESPN]

Random Acts of Roddickness



"Andy Roddick Beat Me With A Frying Pan"

(Click image for book order info)

Woohoo, new bathroom reading. This is one of those crazy finds I came across when I wasn't even doing a search for Roddick anywhere on the web but I found it through a link of a link of a link.

Here's hoping this weekend's Davis Cup news headlines read something similarly, "USA beats Sweden with a Frying Pan."

More Randomness

• Andy's dive on the hardcourt vs Marcos Baghdatis at Montreal won the ATP's Mercedes-Benz Play of the Month for August. Click here to view the video of it.

• Andy was included in a poll conducted by Yahoo! Personals where singles were asked which male and female celebrity they would most like to date. People magazine's 2006 “Sexiest Man Alive,” George Clooney, received 20 percent of the single female vote. People’s 2005 “Sexiest Man Alive” Matthew McConaughey was not far behind on the list with 13 percent of the vote. Also included on the list: Andy Roddick (5 percent), Derek Jeter (4 percent), and Ricky Martin (3 percent).

• I received an e-mail from one Jason Johnson claiming that it was he who wrote the jingle music for Roddick's Lexus commercial "The Big Backup." The .mp3 of that tune can be downloaded for free from his website www.jasonjohnson.com.

• Another e-mail came to me from the editor of Popular Mechanics who wanted to let me know about an article that has just gone live on their website entitled, "Tennis Physics: Anatomy of a Serve". They break down Andy's serve from the ball toss to the follow through, step by step. Fasinating stuff.

Roger Federer is not the only tennis god in Vogue. An e-mail from another editor has alerted me to an interview with Jimmy Connors in the September issue of Men's Vogue where the discussion turns toward Jimmy's protege, Andy: “He’s a tremendous learner. He’s willing to try things, he’s willing to take things right away and put them in a match situation and do it when it counts. That’s what it always took for me to be the best...It comes down to him and his desire and what it takes to go out there and actually win it. And he’s got it-he’s proven that. He’s got to believe in it and just that little bit more to go out and say ‘Look, I’ve done all the work, I’ve done the preparation.’ He has the talent and the ability to be the best.”

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

US Open: The Party Slam

QF: Federer def Roddick
7-6(5) 7-6(4) 6-2
R16: Roddick def Berdych
7-6 (8-6) 2-0 ret
R32: Roddick def Johansson
6-3 6-2 6-0
R64: Roddick def Acasuso
4-6 6-1 6-2 ret
R128: Roddick def Gimelstob
7-6(6) 6-3 6-3

Roger Federer once called the Australian Open "the happy slam." So I am christening the US Open "the party slam." With all those electrifying night matches and enthusiastic, raucous New York crowds (every session has been sold out), how can it not be? How can anyone not be enjoying the spectacle?

Here We Go Again. It's Roddick vs Federer.



The silence is deafening. For the first time time since the start of this non-rivalry I'm not reading or hearing any buzz about this quarterfinal match at all. Ennui seems to have finally settled in. I have no feelings about this match whatsoever, said one bored fan. Is this what rock bottom feels like? Myself, I am comfortably numb about tonight's match.

I guess I should be happy that for once Roddick didn't lose to anybody that he shouldn't have lost to before getting to Federer. On the other hand, Andy had such little match play (two players retired on him) that it may have done him more harm than good.

Not that it matters. Expectations are about as low as they can get for this match. "Nobody expects much from me," Andy has said. "I expect more from myself." On his end, Roger has said, "I know the danger of playing Andy." Which is bad news for Roddick. Federer has never taken Andy for granted, even though their head to head is lopsided in Roger's favor. Something about Andy brings out the best in Roger whereas Roger often brings out the worst in Andy. Their matchup couldn't be worse; while Federer is spreading his wings and flying higher than anybody imagined Roddick would take a step forward and then five steps back and then run in place back to square one.

To add another problem: Roddick has already peaked during his third round match with Thomas Johansson, playing some of his best tennis I've seen from him since the Australian Open (Craig Hickman has a nice write-up of that match and the Berdych match here). Unfortunately Andy has not been consistent with those kinds of results. On the Roddick rollercoaster it usually goes: play great one day, play like crap the next.

As one who has been observing Roddick for years, here is my own unhelpful advice for Team Roddick:

• Do not go out into the match feeling relaxed. You did that at the Australian Open semis and look what happened. You are at your best when playing angry. Get angry at Roger. Be very angry with him. Be an asshole. Use the crowd. No apologies.

• You're not allowed to hit more than three backhand slices in a row.

• Do not bum rush the net, especially when you are panicking. The whole point of approaching the net is the element of surprise and your opponent is never taken off guard because you keep approaching the net like an elephant.

• Play against your instinct. Federer knows your game well and he knows what you tend to do when you're feeling confident and when you're in trouble. Be prescient and mindful. You tend to rush the net when you're in panic mode. Roger knows this. Avoid it.

• Play the point, not the score.

• Instead of hitting Federer with 140mph bombs all the time (which he can read just fine), try throwing in some 105mph loopers. I noticed Djokovic did this to Federer in Montreal and Roger couldn't read the slower serves nearly as well as the fast ones. He also can't return down the middle serves as well from the Ad court.

• Do not put pressure on yourself to either win or lose. I know how competitive you are and I know that in the back of your mind you are thinking, "Oh shit, I have to win this. I can't let Roger beat me again!" You are only setting yourself up for failure by thinking this way. Learn to quiet the voice of self-doubt. Let go all of pressure to win or lose and just enjoy the process of playing tennis. This is exactly why Roger wins so much. He has thrown all pressure off of his shoulders. He can swing freely because winning or losing is not on his agenda. You can learn to do the same.

• Good luck and have fun! You are the star. And remember: Jimmy Connors doesn't want any more broken pieces of Andy to pick up and put back together. He is running out of glue.

Related articles:
• What Roddick needs to do to finally overcome Federer [SI.com]
• To Test Federer, Roddick Must Go for Broke [NY Sun]
• Connors gives Roddick some simple advice [New York Times]
• Federer brings out the worst in Roddick [Washington Post]
• Five ways to beat Roger Federer [Time]
• Ousting Federer a long shot for Roddick [Cronin, Fox Sports]

Roddick's New Lexus Commercial


Fan review has been mixed for "The Big Backup". We don't get it, but we like it anyway because it stars Andy and it doesn't have anything to do with mojo.

The Roddick/Lexus imprinting seems to have worked, too. Said one fan, posting on MTF: "We may be watching too much US Open coverage. When Mary Jo was interviewing Andy after the match, my four year-old daughter informed me that he was the guy who drives his car backwards after the tennis ball."

On the flip side, the Lexus ad could also be interpreted as a metaphor for Roddick's career going backwards, chasing after something he can't catch.



The one thing most people want to know is: who did the music? I don't know, but I'll post the info when I find out. (edit: music was composed by Jason Johnson).

Roddick vs Gimelstob Match


Not a classic but I enjoyed this match for what it was, just two friends enjoying their last professional match together on court (plus the fact that Roddick was rockin' in all black. Very New York City chic). The tennis was high quality and the friendship between the two was obvious, with several funny moments occuring throughout (see video below of the military academy tennis team incident). Roddick wasn't feeling it and came out flat in the first set but Gimelstob was a revelation. That was the best I'd ever seen him play and I was genuinely concerned that Andy was in danger of losing the first set. Andy said he knew Justin would go "kamikaze" and he did that. Justin also had seven shirt changes, giving Sharapova and the Williams sisters a run for their fashion money.

The highlight of the match didn't even occur during the match but afterwards in their oncourt interviews:



Here is Justin's write up on his last match at the USO. I'm sure we haven't heard the last of him. A TV career for tennis' Mr. Funnyman is in the works.

Related article from The New York Times blog: "Tennis Funnyman Leaves the Open and Its Fans in Stitches."

Related article from Newsday that says very well what I thought of Andy's first round performance: "Roddick wins but shows weaknesses at US Open."
Drama may have a long shelf life, but Andy Roddick is starting to get the idea that almost can become an old story. Again last night, his still-young tennis career of spellbinding power, narrow escapes and occasionally spectacular crashes was on full display in a first-round U.S. Open victory over Justin Gimelstob that was equal parts adrenaline rush and odd passivity. . . . Roddick demonstrated his hesitance for the obvious, allowing Gimelstob to control the net and push him farther and farther to the court's edges, so that Roddick needed his bazooka serve - hitting 145 miles per hour - to pull his chestnuts out of the fire in the early going.

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