Thursday, November 20, 2008

Roddick Announces Stefanki As New Coach

Updated December 9, 2008

Andy at his annual charity, Dec. 7. (click for larger image)

There is a great interview Steve Flink of the Tennis Channel did with Larry Stefanki recently where Larry goes into deeper analysis of Roddick's game and mindset and what his plans for coaching Roddick in 2009 will be. Reading the interview is getting me excited for the Australian Open to begin already. It's apparent that Stefanki is thrilled to be coaching a world-class athlete like Andy. Here are a few choice quotes from Larry, click on the link to read the entire interview.

"Steve Flink: Chronicles of Roddick" [The Tennis Channel]
"Andy is going to be the last guy I will ever travel with. When this is over I would like to get involved with junior development in this country. So it just felt like the right time. I felt like working with Fernando had gone its course. He had gotten to No. 5 in the world. I am excited about this because I feel I can really help him. Andy being an American was a big part of the decision for me."

"Let's face it, with a guy of Andy's caliber, winning another Slam or two is the gig. He is a past No. 1, a Grand Slam winner and he has had a dry spell for five years. I know he has the capability of winning another Slam or two. He is the best server in the game bar none, and he is looking to improve his return of serve, and coming forward and ending points a little sooner. Andy is a big body athlete, more of a Boris Becker type of athlete. He is not a David Ferrer or a Davydenko so he needs to make an adjustment and take risks at the right times. This past year he was below 30% on capitalizing on break points and he needs to bring that percentage way up. With some adjustments, there is no reason why he can't win a couple more Slams."

"He hit one return against Janko Tipsarevic at Wimbledon on a big break point in the bottom of the net. We talked about that and he said he was choking badly. And I said, 'No, no, no, no. That's where you have to know that you have the best return and it's rock solid and you are going to be aggressive. That knowingness and that thing in your head that clicks in is what you need to draw on. And knowing it and bluffing it are two different things.' Andy definitely knows how to win but he can get better at some things when he gets under the fire. I'm encouraged about that, and so is he."

"I think it appealed to Andy that I have worked with so many different personalities, so many different nationalities, some one-handed [backhands] and some two-handers, such a diverse group of guys. You learn something from everybody when you coach at the highest levels as I have. Andy is a great competitor. What stands out to me is his heart, his desire, his determination and his competitiveness. And he knows at his level you can't bluff it. I am very impressed with Andy."

"This guy is an incredibly hard worker. He is a mule. You tell him to do something and he does it. If you asked him to run through a wall and he knew that would make him a better player, he would do it."

"I was impressed with Andy's groundies when we worked in Austin. Very, very impressed. He has got an underrated [backhand] chip. We talked about that. Andy said, 'I get no respect for my chip.' He does from me."

"Like every great player, Andy is a perfectionist with the highest standards. He knows he doesn't want to fall into the trap of just getting balls back."

"Andy's mentality now is 'I am not going to be denied.' I love that. How can you not want to work with a guy like that?"

"His fiance [Brooklyn Decker] was there and she is an absolute wonder and asset. She is the greatest thing that that has ever happened to him. She has an unbelievable calming effect on him. I think my personality should work well with his. I will be there for him, but I am not his Daddy. I told Andy, 'I am not going to carry your bag.' He is going to get married so he is in charge of his own life. He doesn't want a guy coaching him who is a control freak. He is in control of his own life. This job is not about me — it is about me helping him achieve the goals he has decided to take on. Andy is a winner, and I am really looking forward to these next two years. He has so much going for him."

I really like what Larry has to say but I have to be honest and admit that I am worried that he may try to mess with Andy's serve the way he's done with previous protege's (like Tim Henman). We have seen over the years that coaches who try to "tweak" Andy's strengths end up messing up his entire game and as a result Andy's confidence takes a dive, and then he starts losing to every Tom, Dick, and Gilles. A perfect example is Andy's forehand, which at the height of its power during 2003-04 was one of the most feared weapons he had; nothing but flat power and precision. Somewhere during the nightmare 2005-06 season he got it into his head that he should use more topspin and loop the forehand more, which is fine to use against certain opponents such as Lleyton Hewitt who cannot create their own pace, but it got to the point where Andy was relying on the loopy topspin more than the flat power forehand and that's just not where his strengths lie in his game. I don't care how "one-dimensional" his serve/forehand combo is. That is what got him to the top of the game and that is how he won his lone slam title. He won a slam with a backhand that was worse back then than it is now! And what is so bad about being one-dimensional anyway? Serena Williams is one-dimensional. She is the proud owner of nine slam titles. Heck, Rafa Nadal is one-dimensional and he beats everybody including Federer. Andy recently said that his game is more well-rounded nowadays, which I agree with and think it's nice, but here's the million dollar question: is he a better player today than he was in 2004? My shocking answer: No, he is not. We've tried tweaking with his game, adding a few things like slice and topspin, and his backhand and ROS are better, but what I'd like to see again is the good old one-dimensional power/confidence player Andy back in 2009. When he feels good about his game, then everything else will fall into place. He will win more often and therefore win more titles. He can beat anybody when he's on his game, including the top five players in the world. Believe it. Simple as that.

My Challenge to Team Roddick in 2009: Focus on Winning That Elusive Second Slam, Forget the Clay Season Altogether


Personally, I feel that Stefanki's one and only goal in 2009 with Andy should be to help him win that elusive second slam, and I think Stefanki feels this way too. That's it. Just one more slam. I don't care if it's Wimbledon, just win a slam, any slam. Andy has three good chances to do it: at the AO, at Wimbledon, and at USO. The French Open is a lost cause. Seriously, I would advise they skip the clay season all together. Clay is not Andy's forte, not his strength, he doesn't like playing on it, and worst of all, he always ends up getting injured on it and it ruins the rest of his season. It's not worth it. Playing on clay adds absolutely nothing to his ultimate goal of winning Wimbledon. I say to Andy and his team: dump the French Open; skip Monte Carlo, Rome, and everything clay in between. It's Rafa's surface to own anyway, so let him have it. I'm not kidding. The European clay tournaments are not worth your time, not worth getting injured on, not worth ruining your chances on grass, and you hardly get any points anyway. Deep six it. Find other ways to stay match-tough.

Random Photo of the Day. Ahh, that rant felt good to type. Now back to Brooklyn, here is a tag-free photo of her attending the Vogue Fashion Fund in NYC in November.



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Updated December 2, 2008

I hope our American friends had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Continuing on the story behind Roddick hiring Stefanki as his coach, a lot of fans were wondering "What about Gonzo?" As far as anyone knew, Stefanki was still under contract with Fernando Gonzalez and Gonzo gave no indication on his blog that he knew Stefanki had been hired by Roddick, instead of the USTA, which he originally thought.

"Stefanki Not Hired by USTA to Coach Roddick" [TR.net]:
There has been some confusion caused by a recent Fernando Gonzalez blog, where the Chilean says that he was told that his now former coach, Larry Stefanki, was hired by the USTA and in a LTA-Brad Gilbert type of deal where he would be coaching Andy Roddick with USTA supervision. No such deal exists. Roddick privately hired Stefanki. [. . .] Apparently, Roddick’s management informed Gonzo that it was a USTA deal, maybe to soften the blow and also possibly to convince Gonzalez to let Stefanki out of his contract six months early. Stefanki was signed up to coach Gonzalez through ’09 Roland Garros. [. . .] Stefanki is a very talkative sort who might be a bit too chatty for Andy (remember that Roddick eventually tuned out Brad Gilbert) but at least he stands by his men for a substantial period of time, unlike Jimmy Connors, who abandoned Roddick when the going got tough earier this year.

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Updated November 24, 2008

More About The Stefanki-Roddick Partnership


UK Times Online:
Stefanki, 51, says that Roddick, having called him two days after pulling out of the Masters Cup in Shanghai with an ankle injury was "so pumped up I want to get going now. Can you be here tomorrow?" "Hold on," he replied "I'm going to the Big Game on Saturday. This isn't like Texas vs. Texas A&M," he said, in reference to the state where Roddick has made his home, "this is Cal vs. Stanford (the biggest college football game in the Bay State).

And so Roddick will have to wait another week to get down to work. Stefanki is just as eager. "Andy Roddick is the best server in tennis," said Stefanki, "and not only does he have the biggest serve in the game, he gets 68 percent of his first serves in. He held serve 91 percent of the time this year. That's an amazing stat. He just doesn't get broken very often. But (he pauses here) he's No.20 on return of serve.

"Confidence is built on the right mechanics and having the right philosophy. Andy, especially on second serve returns, needs to get more aggressive. Not necessarily going for everything, but not just sitting back and returning the ball. He's not a David Ferrer 5'9" road-runner. You've got to take more risks and unless you do you're not going to create that presence you want on the court." [. . .]

Was Stefanki surprised to receive Roddick's call? "A year ago, when Fernando made the Masters, we had dinner together - me, Andy and his brother, John. We talked largely about ATP politics. He had some interesting suggestions and he wanted to know what I thought. Then, this year, after he beat Fernando at the US Open (6-2, 6-4, 6-1 in the fourth round), I told him: 'That was the best I've ever seen you play.' I think maybe that conversation stuck in his mind. Now I'm absolutely overjoyed. I haven't been this excited in a long time, especially knowing he's even more excited about getting started."

Like most Roddick fans I am "cautiously optimistic" about this new partnership. Cautious, because we've been down this road before and recognize the pattern: Roddick will be energized and play lights-out for a few months, but after one or two bad losses he'll stagnate and then fall back into old bad habits; Optimistic, because an infusion of new ideas and new blood is always good to have on hand just before a slam right around the corner. I'm eager to see what magic Stefanki can work on Andy.

While we're on the subject of Andy's coaches: Jimmy Connors was recently arrested after refusing to comply with an order to leave an area near the entrance of the Thunderdome following a confrontation at a men's basketball game.

Jimmy defended himself, releasing a statement saying in part:
“Jimmy said he wanted to stay and wait for his son to watch the game, and as a result was taken into custody,” the statement said. “Police told Jimmy that he was being taken into custody for ‘being a non-student refusing to leave the campus.’ Jimmy is extremely disappointed and embarrassed about the way the situation was handled.”

Whatever, Jimmy.

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Breaking news from AR.com:
Team Roddick is thrilled to announce that Larry Stefanki will be joining Andy on the road as his head coach.
Stefanki was most recently the coach of Fernando Gonzalez. Click the AR.com link to read all about it.
 

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Updated November 21, 2008

Roddick and Blake are not chokers, says Jim Courier


Jim Courier is in Dubai for the Legends Rock event and has dismissed suggestions that Andy Roddick and James Blake are underachieving 'chokers' in a recent interview:
"With Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal around life has definitely become difficult, but I think it's a dangerous assertion to say that those guys [Roddick and Blake] are choking."

Courier said Roddick would have won more than his 26 career titles to date, including one Grand Slam, had he not been part of the era in which tennis was dominated by Federer and Nadal.

"I think Roddick has had an incredible career so far," said the 38-year-old Courier, who won 23 career titles, including four Grand Slams, during his 12-year career. "I think he's an over-achiever. He won the US Open in 2003, reached No 1 in the world and has also won the Davis Cup. These are things some players only dream of, so I get a little disturbed whenever it is suggested that he's under-achieving and choking. People need to look at the guys he's faced throughout his career. He's been up against Roger Federer, who is simply the best player I've ever seen; the most complete player ever. Timing is everything in life and unfortunately for them their peak coincided with the peak of Federer and Nadal, so it's very, very challenging for them."
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Updated November 21, 2008

Rafa Watch


Jon Wertheim has apparently given up trying to get Roger Federer named as Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year, so this year he nominated Rafael Nadal, perhaps thinking that would confuse the committee into actually voting for a tennis player as Sportsman of the Year. No tennis player has won SI's Sportsman of the Year award since Chris Evert in 1976.

Right now Rafa is on vacation enjoying the sun and sand and resting his battered knees. He will not be playing in this weekend's Davis Cup final vs Argentina. Talk about a buzz-kill.

Rafa named one of GQ magazine's Men of the Year


The accolades for Rafa continue to pour in. (right-click for larger image).


 

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great choice for Andy hope it works out!

Anonymous said...

Hey, always nice to read your comments. I´ve been following Andy´s career since 2002 and I see the same things: His game, the technique, the backhand might look nicer and more accurate than in 2003 but it isn´t really that useful.

BTW: I am not a Rafael Nadal fan nor do I hate him but calling his game one-dimensional is not really fair;) A guy who can end up winning the French and Wimbledon in one year just cannot have an one-dimensional game. That´s just not possible.

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