It's impossible to try to analyze Andy Roddick without imagining his lip curling in derision at the attempt. If there's one way to annoy him, it's to "insinuate that it is just very easy to play tennis and everything is easily fixed."
On the other hand, it would annoy him just as much if you suggested that he's on the downswing and there's not much he can do to affect what he achieves from now on.
The truth lies somewhere in between. There's no magic bullet -- he's not suddenly going to develop a killer return or soft hands at the net -- but he can focus on playing in ways that maximize his chances of winning. Luck does play a small but significant role in determining results, but how a player positions himself to take advantage of it is also crucial.
So broadly speaking, what Roddick should be doing is pretty much what he is doing -- just keep plugging away, trying to make small improvements and hope for things to fall his way once in a while. They do say that 90 percent of success is simply showing up.
His game has relatively few moving parts -- the big serve, the big forehand, a solid but neutralizable backhand, volleys which are reliable when simple but frequently shaky when difficult, and good, underrated defence but not the kind that's easily switched into offence. That means his options are fairly limited when it comes to playing style.
"I realize what wins me matches, I'm not in denial about that," he said earlier this week.
Where Roddick does have to make a decision is over how much to unleash his game. Does he, like Fernando Gonzalez and James Blake, go for broke whenever he can and hope he's clicking? That means increased inconsistency -- but when you do well, you do very well. Or does he, like David Ferrer or a vintage Lleyton Hewitt, concentrate on being very good almost all the time so he'll only lose if his opponent is playing great?
Roddick has veered back and forth on this during his career, but now the tide looks like it's swinging back to the go-big-or-go-home approach. In San Jose, he talked repeatedly about the "need to be intimidating out there" and make "my presence felt with my shots."
His loss to Philip Kohlschreiber in the third round of the Australian Open seems to be the impetus. "I just didn't take it to him," he said. "I let him play great. It was tough for me to see that right afterwards."
Before San Jose began, he went into more detail about what went wrong in Australia. "Long story short, I should have let my forehand ride a little bit more. Kind of watching the tape, I realize that. I needed to kind of establish that shot in rallies a little bit more, maybe not let guys take control of it and take pot shots, make them a little bit more uncomfortable."
Hitting out more often is also key another oft-touted strategy for Roddick -- coming to net. "It's here and there. I have to commit to doing it to get better," he said of the tactic. "I think a lot of it depends onwhat I'm coming in on. If I'm hitting good approach shots and they're barely getting racquets on it, then I look really smart at the net. If I'm not, if I'm pushing approach shots, I'm making them look like geniuses hitting passing shots from behind the baseline."
Is playing bigger the right approach? It worked well enough in San Jose, where Roddick faced two tricky opponents in Kei Nishikori and Radek Stepanek, with an in-form Guillermo Garcia Lopez sandwiched in between.
In the final, it was Stepanek who made a big entrance by entering wearing a San Jose Sharks jersey to begin the match in the Sharks' home arena at the HP Pavilion. But Roddick was the one to exit with the title, breaking Stepanek in his first and last service games to wrap up a comfortable victory.
"I feel good," said Roddick on court after the match. "I just wish I'd thought of the jersey thing first."
He didn't face a break point on his own serve and countered Stepanek's net-rushing plays with some solid passing shots, including some beauties on the backhand side. "I hit my backhand better than my forehand this week," he said. "I don't know if guys can just throw some slop over on that side and charge anymore."
Against Nishikori, Roddick used psychological as well physical intimidation, saying he wanted to give the streaking Japanese teen "something to think about other than how well he's been playing."
Was that a play from coach Jimmy Connors? Nah, said Roddick. "I've always been a brat. This isn't something that's come along in the last year and a half."
Trying to impose himself on these players is all very well, but what about facing the likes of Roger Federer? Well, why not there as well? With 11 straight losses against the world No. 1, he has little to lose by gambling a little more and hoping that the shots come off at some point. Roddick's best performance ever against Federer was probably in the first two sets of 2004 Wimbledon final, where on Brad Gilbert's advice he went for broke and was looking increasingly like he was going to pull off a win until the rain came.
In next year's Wimbledon final, a more restrained Roddick lost more handily to Federer. Preoccupied with reshaping his game to try and defeat the Swiss, his results against the rest of the field started to slip as well.
Kohlschreiber aside, Roddick has done a good job since then of beating who he should beat but has pulled off few big wins, going 9-9 against top 20 players last year.
The fact that there's a preoccupation with what Roddick should be doing differently implies a belief that he's underachieving. But with younger players coming up and his own power game looking less exceptional as time passes, upping the ante may be what's required to give himself a shot on big occasions.
He can afford to play within himself against less threatening opponents at smaller events such as Memphis, where he's taken a wildcard next week to try and get more matches after the patchy breaks between the Australian Open, Davis Cup and San Jose. He ended his week happy with his current form. "Sometimes it's all about staying alive in a tournament long enough to give yourself a chance to play well," he said.
He'll get his next crack against the world's best in Dubai, which he's added to his schedule this year for just that reason (and the guarantee money, of course). "Sometimes you have to chase those guys around a little bit," he said. "If going to Dubai is what it takes, it's what it takes."
Chasing rivals to the ends of the earth -- that sounds like Connors too. Surprisingly, the coaching relationship is holding despite anything big to show for it, through Connors will be travelling to fewer tournaments this year and working more with Roddick during training weeks instead.
Be assured that his competitiveness will keep him constantly searching for new ways to make inroads to the top. "Day to day, even week to week you're constantly making adjustments," he said. "Year to year, for sure."
Just don't suggest any easy fixes.