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« San Jose: Stay out of Stepanek's Kitchen IW: Help Wanted, Will Travel »
San Jose: Easy Wins, Tough Answers
Posted 02/25/2008 @ 7 :52 AM

2008_02_24_roddick_blog 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.

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Comments

Good analysis. COngrats RODDICK!

If I were Andy Roddick I'd sneer with derision at Tandon's stupid questions too.

I think Andy is great for American tennis. Most fans have a love/hate relationship with him. We all love to watch him though.Congrats to him and look forward to more wins. Good article Kamakshi.

Interesting article. I'm not sure that Roddick CAN impose himself around a guy like Federer, he finds it much easier to bully around people he knows are "beneath" him (in rankings/accomplishments). But what I like is that he seems to be trying. I want him to keep trying.

Well written article, unbiased and objective. I second, Congrats Andy

That was really interesting. Finally I see a quote of Roddick where he commnets on his net play. I just wanted to see that he is aware that a lot of the approaches just don't work. From what I've seen, the big limitation on his approach shots is the topspinny forehand. When the ball bounces high enough, why not flatten it a little bit? I think he did it a lot more in 02-03-04 seasons.

If he figures that out, and uses it less against Federer... well I think he'll get that Wimbledon title in the end.

Against lesser players there's a confidence he has, a look in the eye, but when he's pushed the look fades. He knows how to blow by a guy but he's not so good at figuring out what to do when the guy won't be blown off the court.
He needs to figure out how to keep the pressure on without imploding when things aren't going well, to ride the tide until it changes.

Don't mention Federer? Hmmm... if not for Fed it's highly likely Roddick would be setting on a few more grand slams (along with a few players). Really hard not to consider the Fed factor.

First of all, Andy has not lost to Roger 11 straight matches. Actually Roger has beaten Andy 11 straight matches. Andy has played his best or near it at least in most of them, but Roger, when he's healthy, refreshed and in his good form is just simply obviously better than him and everyone else too.
Roger beat Andy in the Wimbledon 2004 final because he played the big points and games well when he had to, outplayed Andy like always, and was clutch in the critical games. The rains had nothing to do with the outcome, unless you somehow think that only Andy had to deal with the delay and conditions and Roger didn't too. Roger just played better than he was the first 2 sets, improved his level during the 3rd set, and deserved the win that he got like he always does.

First of all, Andy has not lost to Roger 11 straight matches. Actually Roger has beaten Andy 11 straight matches. Andy has played his best or near it at least in most of them, but Roger, when he's healthy, refreshed and in his good form is just simply obviously better than him and everyone else too.
Roger beat Andy in the Wimbledon 2004 final because he played the big points and games well when he had to, outplayed Andy like always, and was clutch in the critical games. The rains had nothing to do with the outcome, unless you somehow think that only Andy had to deal with the delay and conditions and Roger didn't too. Roger just played better than he was the first 2 sets, improved his level during the 3rd set, and deserved the win that he got like he always does.

I saw every match Andy played at the SAP, and I still don't think he was nearly aggressive enough. Often times, he was still playing well behind the baseline. This strategy nearly cost him the match against Marty Fish, who was hitting much bigger and more solid (not to mention, actually outserved him in aces and percentages). Andy's forehand does not nearly come close to imposing, nor does it make the opposition terribly uncomfortable. I applaud him for his consistent conscientious workman's like effort and attitude (for awhile there he was looking more and more like Jim Courier without all the Slams), but unless he's ready to chase every single ball like Nadal, and let his opponents into every rally, his defensive posture may hurt more than help.

Andy, relax on the backhand and you'll be fine. I know you pay a lot of money on these coaches but trust the fans. You are a lot better than you are playing now....Relax the backhand and things will start to click.

Andy, relax on the backhand and you'll be fine. I know you pay a lot of money on these coaches but trust the fans. You are a lot better than you are playing now....Relax the backhand and things will start to click.

We'll I guess Andy is improving. He should come to the net more often. Don't rely more on the serves. I notice that he has a less winning percentage on returns. Be a rounded player like Fed. Anyway, I like the extra effort of Andy to be the no. 1 player again. Keep it up. Go Andy.

andy should flatten out hit his shots. i think he might be more of a threat to federer if it does like in the wimbledon final in 04. andys backhand improved but he needs to be more aggressive on that side.

Thanks, Kamakshi.. A neat little look at what Andy is thinking these days. I wish him nothing but the best - And I hope he can go back to/keep getting himself to later rounds in the slams...

i think most people agree, Flatten the forehand shots more like the early days(02,03,04)! maybe master a even better placement ability on the serve so the 140+ serve returns become really become impossible' Then possibly ad a sv game' (only in dreams) and relax on the backhand more- let it work! but seriously he has been gettin better, what got em in trouble at the AO this year was like what was mentioned but he looked like he lost gas and concentration in it too. he'll have a good year tho if he keeps pluggin -GO ANDY GO!!

I think the problem with Andy is his footwork...it's horrible. When you see him play Fed, like last years U.S. Open, Fed was pushing him all over the place with his forehand. If you get Andy running he is in trouble and he can't get his feet right in order to hit his shots correctly. You want to move forward on all your shots and that requires good footwork. Andy when pushed is always hitting falling back or just not moving forward and that limits the aggressiveness of his shots.

Also he expends way to much energy running all over the place...pace yourself and you will do better. Carrillo and Agassi have made great points that Andy's Kamakazi approach gets (His all or nothing approach, especially when he is desperate or down) gets you nowhere if you don't have strategy! Know when to go for your winners! Play strategy! An aggressive strategy!

Also play the game and forget the psyching out stuff! Play your game! That will do the most psyching for you! All that yelling and attempt at intimidating stares won't win you championships but just make the top players (Like Fed) keep whipping your butt! Like Agassi said, it's one thing to psych yourself up it's another to wake up a sleeping giant! It's a fine line and you are terrible at it Roddick!

Overall, I really hate Roddick's game. Overall it's ugly and really inefficient. There is no balance...he's either one way or another. It's annoying. With Fed still up top and young players coming up with better all around games, Roddick could really never be a great player, but a just a good player. Which isn't so bad since he'll still have made millions.

Andy, You have the best serve in tennis, many are envious and wish they possess such a talent. However, everyone should acknowledge of their own limitation regardless of how hard we tried. You have proven to the world that you are one of the best, and many of us believe it.

You put too much pressure on yourself everytime you play against the top 5 players of the world. You verbally brag that you are more prepared than ever before, therefore you expect some kind of perfect result. At the end , it always backfired, and you were not happy with your game or you believed you did not play your very best or you promise to your fans but was not able to deliver. All inner anxiety kept on piling up due to too high expectation towards yourself, you have not forgiven yourself from your previous defeat.

If you could only humble yourself, have an attitude that there are others who are more talented out there, and you came to a match prepared to your best ability, you will be contented with the result regardless of the outcome of the match. Your subconscious self will make you more relax, stay more focus on what you can execute, and with a little bit luck, or bad luck from the opponent, you might surprise yourself. There are just things in life beyond our control, try to focus on things that we can control, such as your temper that can tighten muscles. Losing a match is just another reason to acknowledge our strength and weaknessess and pray that luck might be on our side the next time.

Andy Roddick is a terrific player with great skills. He would have won 2-3 grand slam titles had it not been for a guy called Federer. He has a fantastic serve, is good from the baseline and has improved at the net. His footwork may not be the best; neither his temperament. But he makes up for that by being in top notch physical shape and a never-say-die attitude. In short, he is as perfect a professional sportsman as you can be. Luck has not been on his side in recent times. He has lost many important five setters. I hope 2008 turns out to be a turning point in his career. He not only deserves to be in the top 5, he deserves at least 1-2 more grand slam titles.

it is offense and defense not offence and defence

Posted by 03/07/2008 @ 2:10 PM

"it is offense and defense not offence and defence"


That spelling is a variant. mostly British

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