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All Kinds of Ugly 06/26/2008 - 5:24 PM

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I've been sitting here trying to absorb and process what happened at Cardig - make that Wimbledon - today, and one simple word keeps popping into my mind. Ugly. Maria Sharapova, James Blake, Andy Roddick. . . A faux American and two red, white and blue ones all got the gong at Wimbledon today, and I suppose it might give solace to their fans that it wasn't because their best tennis wasn't good enough. Of the three, Blake (whose match I saw the least of) seemed to be the one playing closest to his best level, so he's the one most apt to take lessons away from it.

That's how it is for American tennis these days, it seems. It's bizarro world, with the question "who's playing worse?" seeming more relevant than "who's stepping up?" By the time Roddick's match ended, the U.S. had  established a new low-point for the American game at Wimbledon. It was the worst group performance by U.S. men in the Open era. The only Yank left  in the draw is Bobby Reynolds.

Janko_2It was all kinds of ugly today, perhaps best symbolized by the shot that's probably going to flash across Roddick's inner jumbotron often enough over the next few days, at odd enough times, to position him as the model for some artist's re-interpretation of Edvard Munch's expressionist masterpiece, The Scream. You probably saw it - that mortifying, chop forehand service return that he feebly stuck into the net - off a gift of a second serve, no less! - when he had a set point to level his match with Janko Tipsarevic  at two-sets apiece. This was not the Andy Roddick we know and love; hail, it wasn't even the Andy Roddick some people know and love to hate. This was someone Roddick is not - a man paralyzed by opportunity. How odd, given all that Roddick had to gain by doing well at Wimbledon this year.

First things first, though. Although the grass at Wimbledon has slowed appreciably in the past few years, it still retains some of the properties that once ensured that the players who did the best on turf were the ones who brought the best combination of power and athleticism to the greensward. In Sharapova's loss to Alla Kudryavetska, we saw how undisciplined power (the kind that is produced with so much effort that too many things can go wrong) combined with a lack of flex and/or fluidity can add up to a kind of anti-grass-court-grass-court game. And in Blake's match, we saw how speed and even weight of shot lose what capacity they have to menace if a player isn't willing to barge through the doors cracked open by those virtues, and present his opponent with difficult questions to answer.

The limitations on display yesterday served to underscore the idea that tennis on grass is, to a far greater degree than meets the eye, about versatility, improvisational ability, risk-taking and - perhaps most of all - the willingness to finish what you start. To back up every shot with whatever ought to come next in some Platonic universe, whether it's a volley, approach shot, or pace-and-tone-altering drop shot or placement. The one common theme in all three big upsets yesterday can be summed up in a single, hyphenated word: one-dimensionality.

Sharapova's skills are so narrowly defined that she can be in trouble on any surface, on any day. That she wins so often is a tribute to her fighting spirit. Blake, always suspect in long matches, doesn't appear very interested in figuring out ways to exploit his mercurial tendencies. This  will be clear to anyone who remembers the way the late Vitas Gerulaitis, who was fleet and flashy in the same way as Blake, capitalized on comparable gifts with gusto and courage. Vitas turned tennis into a kind of high-speed shell game. Granted, Blake has nothing like that razor-sharp Gerulaitis backhand volley, or that low-skidding backhand slice approach shot with which to bring it into play. But remember also that Vitas had no forehand and, to go with it, a flat/topspin backhand that was shaky on its best day. But Vitas had guts and guile. Those two virtues will take you a long way on grass, even today.

Blake

Roddick is not blessed with the talent for deceit. But he has guts, and a bread-and-butter power game that plays nicely on grass. Roddick can hold so easily on grass (or should) that he ought to be free to attack his opponent's serve almost at will. That doesn't mean he can break left and right - his return isn't expert enough for that. But he ought to have his rivals sweating bullets at the prospect of a double-fault here, a shanked forehand there giving Roddick just enough inspiration and impetus to ruin his day. That's especially true of a player like Tipsarevic, whose serve is. . . manageable.

After the Roddick match, Pat McEnroe observed that one possible explanation for Roddick's tentative, herky-jerky play is that he felt a lot of pressure - that he, in Pat's words, "wanted it too much." That uber-desire might have been fed by various forces - last year's loss to Richard Gasquet (and an accompanying, forceful desire on Roddick's part to re-assert his position as the second-best grass-court player on the planet), expectations,  perhaps self-imposed, created by Roddick's wins over Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer earlier in the year, and perhaps even some innate sense of urgency in Roddick, who's no longer a fresh-faced kid who has unlimited opportunities to win Grand Slams in his immediate future.

That last factor is relevant;  Roddick told me as much when we met in New York a few weeks ago."I understand that I'm kind of at the mid-point of my tennis life, and that's a humbling realization," he told me. "But I honestly believe that I was putting myself in position to win. The big difference is that this year, I actually won a few of those. I put too much pressure on myself in Australia, where I wanted to win so bad I was driving myself crazy and it showed. But I realized I need to calm down and go about my business in a more relaxed way. I did that, and it helped. I feel from about mid-February  until now, I've played as well as ever in my career, including run in '03."

In light of those words, today was a setback for Roddick. But perhaps more importantly, it suggests he's in the midst of a powerful if subtle transition (his engagement to Brooklyn Decker must figure into this equation as well) in a game that has no patience for such piddling, human considerations. Tennis is a cruel game; that's probably why it's filled with so many lovely rituals and  niceties.


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Posted by mariej... vamos en la hierba ! 06/26/2008 at 05:34 PM

first yo !

Posted by Chany 06/26/2008 at 05:40 PM

I for one am very sad that Roddick lost.

Posted by Sher 06/26/2008 at 05:50 PM

>Tennis is a cruel game; that's probably why it's filled with so many lovely rituals and niceties.

good one, Pete.

I'm sad that Andy lost :(

Posted by SwissMaestro 06/26/2008 at 05:55 PM

Roddick did not loose that last years' QF match against Gasquet. That match was as lost by the American as it was won by the French.

Too bad Andy is out of the draw though, I certainly would have liked him making it to the SF's at least. Now all the fun of this half of the draw is on Nadal's quarter: Gasquet, Murrat, Nadal, Kiefer, Youzhny, Stepanek; I think the one that makes it out of that quarter will be in the final.

Posted by nikdom 06/26/2008 at 05:56 PM

I think there is a big difference between on-court Andy and off-court Andy. Even if you set aside the weak return game for a moment, Andy's emotions hurt him more than help him on the court. He comes off as a thoughtful, smart and balanced individual from his interviews, but I wonder why he cannot see his own faults and work on correcting them. Arguing with officials, losing his concentration and getting down on himself has become a trademark of his against quality opponents.

I almost think the criticism you leveled against Blake applies more to Andy. What that serve, he should have had a lot more success on hardcourts and grass. That he has not only goes to show that while others like Nadal and Djokovic have improved so much in their weak areas, Andy has not.

Maybe it IS an age thing. Look at Blake, Safin and Andy. Maybe old dogs cannot learn new tricks!

Posted by Jon Reiss 06/26/2008 at 05:57 PM

Interesting post Pete. Roddick is a guy who to me, continues to confound. If you look at clips of him back during his '03 run, he's a raw, more powerful version of his current self. At that point in his career, he looks like he doesn't know what to do except bash forehands and hope that things go well. Now, I identify him as a big server with an average to mediocre ground game, with very little volleying ability. I never understood why someone doesn't get him to look at tapes of him in the summer of '03 and show him how aggressively he was playing then. Sure, a lot of it is based on confidence and your most recent wins and losses, but unless Roddick wants to get back into the top echelons of the game, I think he almost has to play that raw, powerful kind of game. In other words, I think learning the X's and O's of the game, as part of his maturation process as a player almost hurt Roddick --- he went from a brash young kid with a big serve and nothing to lose to someone who could consistently be top 7 in the world, but had no chance of winning a grand slam. If he wants to become a great player again --- he needs to go back to what he does best --- which is blast serves and forehands and not worry about "throwing in the slice backhand as a change of pace".

Having said this, I think we also msut realize that despite all the tough losses Roddick has endured over the last few years, his work ethic and drive to win are admirable. A few months ago, Pete B. or Tom P. (I forget who) wrote something to the effect of "if Roddick is able to stick around and Federer continues to fade a bit he could be right back in the mix at majors outside the French." I tend to agree with this --- he's not necessarily as far away from major success as a lot of people think. But as I said before, I think if he continues to play the kind of game he plays, he has zero chance of winning another slam.

I hope this makes sense. Would be happy to clarify for people if they want to respond to this point.

Posted by 06/26/2008 at 05:57 PM

I think you picked the wrong horse this time Pete.....

Posted by Jeff in Rochester 06/26/2008 at 05:58 PM

Roddick seems to think that his current entourage minus Connors is his new found horizon. Wrong! He has stunk the tennis world up after Fed EX tanked in Dubi plus alienated the tennis world when he dumped the KING!

I think Andy should go home with his Davis Cup and 1 grand slam and drift off to retirement.

Posted by Victory 06/26/2008 at 06:00 PM

I saw the Tipsarevic-Federer in Melbourne earlier this year, and I was half sorry for him when he lost (I am a huge Federer fan). In my eyes this, is payback for him. The "too one dimensional" comment is spot on for the three of them. Roddick lacks nuance in the court. With Blake, a joy too watch, you are never sure. As for Maria, what can I say? I am surprised how much she manages to win.

It's been a great day at Wimbledon.

Posted by Tommy Balls 06/26/2008 at 06:03 PM

Poor Roddick, he did seem very tentative. I guess the moment got to him. I wish they were not slowing down the grass so much, i mean why dont they just come and dump some red clay on top of it!!! Everyboy is making such a big stink about Nadal playing so well on grass, well it seems like its slower than the US open now! I thought a little variety in tennis was a good thing? Perhaps we should just choose one uniform surface and stick to that!

Posted by mariej... vamos en la hierba ! 06/26/2008 at 06:03 PM

pete, i don't think it's bizarro that power lost to variety...

grass teaches you how to adapt your game on the run, today sharapova lost because she could not adapt any other tactic to throw her opponent off rythm, andy lost for different reasons but tipsy could exploit every single weakness of his game today, specially on roddick fh : i though roddick did not flatten that shot enough to take some time off tipsy, or andy fh is overrated or today he hit that shot too conservatively, imo.
blake, can you say 5 setter headcase ?
he had the game to beat schuettler in straits and just managed to lose in 5 ? how ? i think he hasn'st really learn how to play to hiss strenghs on grass, on hc he has, on grass he's having a mental block a la davydenko,imo.

with the likes of querrey, isner and ivo losing their fire power acing machine, i would say that the serve is not the most important shot anymore on the men's game even if occasionnaly it can makes a difference, the return of serve killed most of the big servers today, and variety in the baseline buried tentative and inconsistent players.
i saw a bit of the 3 matches thanks to canal plus super coverage on 3 channels, the zapping was fast, i tell you !

sad day in the US ? or just sad day at ESPN scheduling wimby with just the williams's to hold on ? anyone shaving their heads yet at espn ?

pete, btw how come you are not thrilled about so many spanish players in the 3rd of wimby : 5, it might be a record no ? it's "la roja" effect ;) jeje !
vamos españa en la hierba !

Posted by Mikey All Coury 06/26/2008 at 06:04 PM

Great article and analysis Pete, like always.

I keep hoping that one of Roddick's losses will finally jolt him into realizing the need to attack on the return of serve. The advantage of a great serve is two-fold and unfortunately Andy cannot seem to get this through his head.

Oh well, onto the U.S. Open. Amex might want to start running their Roddick ads now so they get a full run.

Posted by vetmama 06/26/2008 at 06:05 PM

As I've mentioned before, ARod's theme song should be
"Herky -Jerky Man", as Muddy Waters would have written it:

"Y'know I'm here
Everybody knows I'm here
And I'm the Herky-Jerky Man
Everybody knows I'm here"


Pete, this is great:

"...undisciplined power (the kind that is produced with so much effort that too many things can go wrong) combined with a lack of flex and/or fluidity can add up to a kind of anti-grass-court-grass-court game."

It sums up Sharapova's troubles perfectly, and also shows how Andy's herky-jerkiness and overwhelming desire shackled him today.

Posted by nikdom 06/26/2008 at 06:07 PM

I don't think a return to his aggressive, younger self is possible or fruitful. The truth is, players have improved over the last 5-6 years and the same youngsters that can trouble Federer can certainly upset Andy given the pecking order of raw talent, if you will.

Andy may be able to hang around in the top 10 for some more time, but I doubt he will make it to the semis or finals of a grand slam without the draw opening up with major upsets. He has been unfortunate running into the likes of Federer in the past, but the rest of the competition is not stagnant either.

Posted by Monica 06/26/2008 at 06:17 PM

Why "faux American"? Sharapova has never claimed to be American but if she did, she would be truer to herself than she is now, I think. The Russian girls seem to really resent her (Myskina accused her of having a "coarse" accent and K today seemed especially thrilled to have beaten La Sharapova) for claiming to be Russian when she's grown up and acts like the quintessential American, so I've thought at times she should just drop the act and just call herself American, but I guess Americans will always see her as Russian, just as much as the Russians will see her as an American. She's a foreigner everywhere she goes.

Posted by JimmyMulligan 06/26/2008 at 06:23 PM

This post was top of the world commentary. Any time you can use the terms bizarro world, Edvard Munch's, Platonic universe, and mercurial tendencies all in one post you know that your college professor is veru proud of you. LOL.
Hey, I feel bad for the American's and semi-americans (whatever) but Im more surprised with the level of play from both Fed and Rafa. The game is a 180degree change from clay and I don't care how much the people say it's slower it is still grass. You have to take fast choices and turn them into rewards.
These two players are really making tennis alot of fun to watch.

thats all I have to say about that.lol.

Wimbledon. It's top of the world.

Posted by Vie 06/26/2008 at 06:25 PM

like this piece much!

Posted by truth 06/26/2008 at 06:27 PM

Great write-up.

It was a sad day for American tennis on the men's side. I think one has to question James Blake, though. He seems so eager to just go in and blast away, when oftentimes, as he's proved in the majors, that just isn't enough. He needs to adjust his game, period.

I didn't expect too much from Andy Roddick. Coming off of the injury it just didn't seem he had much momentum. Everyone talks about Fed being vulnerable, but I think very few fear facing Roddick.

Posted by Syd 06/26/2008 at 06:30 PM

Great read Pete, thanks.

Andy's is as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof out there; it's a shame really, grasping for the brass ring that is completely out of sight. I could smell his desperation from as far away as New York and I couldn't understand why the commentators - PMac? were saying he was a good mover - huh? If he didn't have that serve he'd be ranked way out of the top ten, I think. I'm not a big fan of his, but I do hope his performance at the Open will take him much further.

Posted by J-Block 06/26/2008 at 06:35 PM

The funny thing is, for those of us who really follow the sport, it was hard to expect results from the Americans. To be honest, I predicted before the tournament that Mardy Fish would be the last American man standing, even with his tough first rounder (which of course he lost).

Somewhat unrelated: Is it possible we could see a Roddick-Brad Gilbert team in the run-up to the US Open?

Posted by Jenn 06/26/2008 at 06:48 PM

I loved the title of this piece. It really did sum up the day for those three players. I was scoreboard watching with Blake's match and assumed he had thing wrapped up in 4, only to find that he went James Blake on us. I remember Patrick M. or possibly one of the other commentators stating on Monday that Blake was going to be furious with himself, given his draw on paper, if he did not at least make it to the early second week. I do not understand how Blake stays in the Top 10 with his consistently dismal results in Grand Slams. I feel badly for him, but his record of success in the long tough matches speaks for itself, unfortunately.

As for Roddick, I was just shocked to see him not seize the moment when Tipsarevic was faltering on serve. He gave Roddick so many second serves late in that 4th set. I watched it and still cannot believe that he let it slip away so easily. I thought for sure that the advantage with the serve would get him the tiebreak, even after the wasted set points. Tipsy was not even playing as well as he did in Australia. He missed a lot of balls, actually. But I think it is very legitimate to question at this point whether Roddick really is a threat to win another Slam. He is theoretically a contender, but in reality he is looking less and less like a legitimate threat at the slams. There have been a few too many of these shocking losses to simply write off as unlucky or catching another guy on a career day. Those are my thoughts, but I also felt extremely sorry for Roddick and was not happy to see him suffer what has to be one of his worst career defeats.

As for Sharapova, Pete you point out her obvious limitations, but with that game she still destroyed Serena Williams in a final here and has generally played well. I did not see her match today, but even with the limitations I find the scoreline to be shocking.

Sorry for the length... have had no time to post this week. Wow, what will tomorrow's play bring??

Posted by VE 06/26/2008 at 06:49 PM

This has been a confounding year for Masha. She was playing SO well to start the year and she has just stunk it up recently, something s up, I'm just not sure what yet. No, she doesn't have a joga bonito a la Justine or roger, but she's got guts, groundies and gumption and that should be enough to make the second week bare minimum.

James Blake, ho hum, what a shock. I'd compare him to Clijsters, but at least she won a major. He seems to be a great guy, smart, level-headed, good player, but just doesn't have it mentally together to win a big one.

With Andy, I blame him for poisoning the entire US D-Cup squad into thinking they've got no chance on clay. It's almost palpable when these guys get to Roland Garros that they're trying to make it back to Charles de Gaulle before the Metro shuts down for the night. That's neither here nor there. Today, I didn't see his match, but I chalk it up to an "any given day" scenario. Tipsarevic is a solid player who I could see as a regular Top 20 fixture, but not really troubling the podium much. Against Andy, if Janko's at his best, that's enough. As I said on here a while back, it's a crime that someone with a serve like his was never taught to volley.

Posted by rudy3 06/26/2008 at 06:57 PM

I've said it before, I'll say it again, Andy needs to get on the bat phone and call Brad Gilbert. Andy was at his best when he allowed Gilbert to coach him.

I'm afraid Andy is developing a loosing mentality. He is pressured by time. He knows his window is small. I think his decision to skip the Olympics is a good one. While the big dogs will compete in a jet lagged state. Andy should be fresh, he should be able to feed off the NY energy. And he has memory of good runs.
Let's say I hope he puts together a good run. I like Andy and I hope he has at least one good one left.

Today's loss was as Pete said, ugly. Inexcusable really. Same with Blake, ridiculous. The American men are so lousy at Wimbeldon these days because they come in lacking the match practice of the field, since they essentially skip the clay season. They have no match rhythm. Fish was awful against Gasquet.
Darren Cahill (or was it Brad Gilbert) said the other day that American players don't practice with purpose. They practice hard, but not on specifics or tactics.
And this shows.

We are in a sad era in American tennis. There was relatively no difference between the American showing and the lowly British contingent who wild card their way into their tournament.

Oops, go a little long winded here.

Posted by Chris 06/26/2008 at 07:00 PM

After chewing out his opponent's coach, Roddick made fun of Tipsarevic's grunting in the fourth-set tiebreak in the middle of a rally -- everyone in the crowd burst out laughing -- and he lost the point. An expensive point, as it turned out, given that he lost.

What kind of chump does that? Mere points away from losing, and that's what's on the brain?

Let's call it stupidity, for that was what it was.

Posted by Alex 06/26/2008 at 07:03 PM

Ugly for who? Not those that won.

As far as Andy, even Pat McEnroe on ESPN was chiding Roddick for has lack of skills. Roddick never had a game even when he won UO. Face it - he doesn't have a talent to change and improve. He is just an average player that never had The Mojo in the first place.

Posted by 06/26/2008 at 07:07 PM

rudy3 - not sure about Roddick going back to Gilbert. Pre-Gilbert he appeared to play more inside the court, particularly on return games e.g. against Sampras in Miami when he was very new on the tour.

VE - "it's a crime that someone with a serve like his was never taught to volley." I've sometimes wondered whether he would have been a more complete player had he opted to go to a tennis academy rather than staying at high school and thinking of tennis, perhaps, as more a way to get a college scholarship than necessarily a career option. His decision to turn pro seems to have been taken rather later than is the norm. Especially nowadays with kids like Ryan Harrison becoming pros at 15.

Posted by Kate 06/26/2008 at 07:11 PM

I know I get too emotionally involved (it's not like I've ever, or will ever for that matter, met any of these players), but I really feel for Roddick. He wants to win so badly, to prove himself. So many of us condemn him for lack of results, but I think he places that much pressure on himself too. I think he utilizes all the talent he has. I can only imagine my mindset if in my chosen career, my best effort day-in-day-out left me short of my own goals not to mention other peoples expectations. Here's hoping he can reach the front row one more time.

Posted by anon 06/26/2008 at 07:13 PM

Quick question to the Tribe:

If at the start of the day, the line-up for the day's action looked like this:

Nadal
Sharapova
Venus
Blake
Roddick

And I told you only two would advance, which two would you have picked?

By guess would have been NAdal and Sharapova.

Posted by Edengrave 06/26/2008 at 07:14 PM

Beautiful piece as usual. Faux american? How I wonder. Anyway These kinds of ugly are what make Grand Slams and Tournaments in general great. Anything can happen! I have even more respect for the relentless consistency of Federer and Nadal. Roddick and Blake will never I am afraid to say come close let alone equal the like of Agassi and Sampras. And there's no one in the generation after them that shines too. Well The US is in good company. This part of the Cycle belongs to the East European it seems, or it would if not for the iron grip The Duarchy has on the top.

Posted by Myskina+Trains=Tolstoy 06/26/2008 at 07:16 PM

Is there any reason why we should expect more from Blake than we ever did of, say, Eliot Teltscher? I've never seen anything from him to suggest that he should be ranked higher than he is. If he had the personality and physical "charms" of Radek Stepanek, then he'd be more easily appreciated as the overachiever that he is.

Posted by svelterogue 06/26/2008 at 07:28 PM

pete

you sound so sad in your last line. watching the excerpt from andy's presser on the wimbledon site, it was clear that he was gutted gutted gutted to the marrow. reading his and janko's analyses of their match, you could see how both of them understood very clearly what was happening on court. both had this meta-awareness of what to do on grass, what to do when a player chokes, what to do off a second serve, when to pass, when to serve and volley, what it means... all that thinking really got to andy, it seems.

like nole, might need to go away for a while where he has the luxury to really think through the next stage of his tennis life, with all its piddling niceties and rituals lacing the innate cruelties of intense scrutiny.

Posted by Codge 06/26/2008 at 07:29 PM

I wish I could have seen the match. I listened to it on BBC and the commentary didn't paint it as a Roddick choke, but more as Tipsarevic playing great tennis and taking his opportunities.

I heard PMac on the radio and he clearly felt that Roddick choked.
Sounds like Pete's in agreement with PMac.

Take-aways from the post above:
-Sharapova's game is one dimensional, she should be grateful she's made it this far.
-Blake is gutless
-Roddick knows the end is in sight and the anxiety is forcing him to sabotage his limited chances.
Did I miss anything ;-)

Sad day for ESPN I'm sure. Still a few americans left to fill the hours they diegn to tennis and give Fowler and Gilbert a chance to catch their breath.

Posted by GS 06/26/2008 at 07:37 PM

Speaking of the "faux American" I heard some comment about her not being able to carry the Russian flag at the Olympics because they did not want her to be tired. What on earth???? So it is ok for other athletes to be tired? Not that there aren't more deserving athletes anyway. I am not a supporter of tennis (and baseball and basketball and other pro sports) being in the Olympics to begin with. This is the one chance (every 4 years at that) that amateur athletes have to shine, and pro athletes with all their money and fame should not steal that moment. But more so, in this case, for someone who is only Russian by birth, but American for all intents and purposes, to carry the flag would be a slap in the face to just about every other athlete from Russia.

But back to this article... Sharapova and Roddick are and have always been one-dimensional in their game. Power gets you places, but you can't win 'em all. While I admire Sharapova's grit, she's really boring and ungraceful on any surface, not just clay as she seems to think. And for all the reputation that Blake has for being an intelligent player, he never fails to disappoint. But Pete, come on, give Roddick a break and don't bring that poor fiancee of his into this. As he said recently, if he wins, the press will talk about how it was his newfound happiness that helped him win, and if he loses, it will be because he's distracted. Or words to that effect.

Posted by Alex 06/26/2008 at 07:42 PM

I think it does all go back to what Roddick himself said about how he played when he first got on tour...he said something along the lines of how he would just eat a bunch of Cheetos, play some video games, and then (without over-thinking) go out and crush serves and forehands. Well, I think he's still crushing serves, but despite Connors' efforts I think he continues to play way too defensively from the ground. A guy as tall and heavy (i.e. not a fluid mover) as he is should not be playing like a quasi-counterpuncher. Lately, however, this is exactly what it looks like...

Posted by Christopher 06/26/2008 at 07:53 PM

"...plus alienated the tennis world when he dumped the KING!"

Jeff-- What in the world does this mean? Do you think it was somehow wrong of Roddick to beat Federer this spring? How odd.

Pete-- That serve return was one of the most painful shots I've seen in a while. I was just staring at my computer screen trying to figure out what it was even supposed to be. Awful dropshot? Suicidal approach shot?

Actually, speaking of the latter, I still think approach shots are the worst part of Roddick's game. He's hitting topspin forehands (some of the crosscourt!!!) that land 3-4 feet in front of the baseline and coming in on them. That's just crazy against today's players. This was why Federer so utterly demolished him at the AO last year. It was like he was feeding balls to Roger in a drill for practicing passing shots.

As I've said before, if Andy is going to come to the net, he should serve and volley a LOT. His serves, both first and second, are the best approach shots he ever hits.

Posted by Samantha Elin 06/26/2008 at 08:09 PM

I love the title of this piece because it's a summary of what is happening in tennis and it is not pretty. Beauty, grace and variety left tennis when Justine said goodbye. You may never see another player like her in the game. The net game is completely ignored by most players, in favor of baseline ballbashing. This is why many people don't respect tennis and believe that the only thing the players are doing is hitting the ball back and fourth.The thing that struck me the most was that a player with such a low ranking was able to match Sharapova shot for shot. Oh, I've seen the Williamses do it many time, butn't someone like Alla.She blew her off the court with powerful ground stroke.In her press interview, she was very cute saying she went in it to win. There was absolutely no fear. I think it's unfair to put Sharapova in with Roddick because I don't believe he can win a slam, but her game is certainly good enough. I also think that Sharapova makes the best of a very limited game. I'm a little harder on Roddick because I feel that he's capable of producing a good net game, but like Hingis refuses to change.

Posted by Naydal 06/26/2008 at 08:28 PM

Christopher

I agree that he needs to come into the net more off his serve. The year Roddick took the first set off Roger in the Wimbledon final (before the rain delay) he was hitting rockets and coming to the net off them. It definitely unnerved Roger. Federer pulled it out, but I don't think that loss should have been taken as evidence that serve and volleying doesn't work for Roddick...I think the message was quite the opposite.

Posted by Syd 06/26/2008 at 08:32 PM

I don't think Roddick should go anywhere near the net; holy cow; I mean he may have a few points there, but he was passed on more than one occasion today also. Not quick around the net. No.

Posted by Naydal 06/26/2008 at 08:37 PM

I agree he is not quick around the net, but he has arguably more problems at the baseline lately. His forehand is good (nothing special anymore), but his backhand is barely adequate. His movement at the baseline is honestly even worse than at the net - it looks like he is carrying weights or something when he runs or tries to change directions.

Posted by Syd 06/26/2008 at 08:42 PM

* it looks like he is carrying weights or something when he runs or tries to change directions. *

LOL.

Posted by Christopher 06/26/2008 at 08:46 PM

Syd-- Agreed that he is hardly McEnroe, but I don't see anything particularly good about his baseline game either. If he tries the serve and volley, he'd be able to take advantage of, for example, Federer's sliced floating BH returns. Letting those float deep and trying to then win the point from the baseline takes away much of the advantage of the big serve. He needs a real one-two punch to get the maximum benefit from his serve and he's not going to do it with his back court game. I'm not saying more serve and volley is going to win him slams, but I do think it would win him more matches overall.

Posted by Master Ace 06/26/2008 at 08:48 PM

Hopefully, Wimbledon show on TC will replay some of Maria's match. But, her one-dimensional game caught up with her today as she had a player who was not afraid.

Posted by Rob 06/26/2008 at 08:50 PM

Given Americans' past results at Wimbledon, this must rank higher than last year's French on the list of events we'd like to forget.

Posted by Syd 06/26/2008 at 08:57 PM

Christopher:

Haven't people been trying to "train" Roddick to serve n volley for a while now? He looks lost up there; and besides, Fed would just change tactics, as would everyone else. There's been so much tinkering with the Roddick game that I think he's confused. He's gonna hover around the top ten for a while longer just on his serve alone—and today was gut-wrenchingly bad. I really think he'll settle back onto the hard courts, coming right up, where he can serve people off the court. At least he'll be able to hold his head up.

Posted by Chris 06/26/2008 at 09:13 PM

Trouble is, he's essentially useless on hardcourts too, if someone comes along with an equal bomb for a serve. Many of the other big servers have better ground games than Roddick, so with the wrong draw he has no chance of making the final.

Posted by CL 06/26/2008 at 09:18 PM

I hAven't read Andy' presser yet, but did anyone ask him about the state of his shoulder?

It just seems that this isn't the same Andy that was taking out Rafa, Djoker and Fed earlier this year. I just wonder if there is an underlying effect. He seemed to serve fine for the most part, but something... and it wasn't heart of desire... just seemed to be missing.

I do agree that he tend to lose focus too easily and his own energy is also his own worse enemy sometimes.

As for Blake... well... he is in, IMO, a deeper hole than Andy, career wise.

Maria, I think, will bounce back, and will be a strong, if not dominant factor in a lot of tournaments to come.

Posted by jerell 06/26/2008 at 09:23 PM

My (lenghty) take on Sharapova's lost. Actually, my column on it:

Maybe it was the pants. Maybe it was competing with Roger Federer and Serena Williams to be Nike’s fashion darling over the fortnight. Or maybe it was the thumb injury to Michael Joyce.

But despite all those possible reasons, immense pressure was the definitive answer for the shocking demise of Maria Sharapova on Court one.

“I was pretty tentative,” said the number three seed after suffering the biggest upset of this tournament, the biggest upset of this tennis year: a comprehensively beating by 154th ranked Alla Kudryavtseva in a 6-2, 6-4 scoreline that will make those who didn’t watch the match question if the right player is on the left side of the letter “D.”

Gone is all the momentum of coming back from a woeful 2007 and winning the Australian Open. Gone is some pundits’ maddeningly belief that she would dominate the game the remainder of the year.
And what happens to all the good feelings about Sharapova coming into to this year’s Wimbldeon tournament?

N’Sync doesn’t even have to sing the word to you.

The signs of this happening weren’t showing at all. Despite her contentious and painful lost to Dinara Safina at the latter preliminary stages of the French Open, Sharapova had improved her form enough at Paris to consolidate all the confidence she had in the early part of the year. She was the oddsmakers favorite even after it was revealed that Venus Williams was in her half of the draw . And that she hadn’t come close to beating Serena Williams since losing three match points against her at the 2005 Grand Slam opener.

No matter to Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim and many other experts however, as they felt somehow someway that the American Russian was going to hoist her second title here. But despite their lack of definitive reasons for picking her to take the tournament, if anyone prognosticated her to egress Wimbledon in the second round, they seriously need severe medication. And even with their “out of this stratosphere” prediction turning out to be an actual truth, they still should get a dose of “What were you smoking?”

Nevertheless, the domination that Kudryavtseva placed on Sharapova was felt in every facet of the game. Kudryavtseva, who failed to take out the elder of the Williams sisters last year when she had her on the ropes in round one, refused to stop laying the blows this time around. At times in the second set, from the first two games to the seventh one when Sharapova survived two break points, it seemed she was going to recapitulate a match against a top player again. Instead, not only did she earn the match by keeping placid and strong, it was also the person on the other side of the net that made this the most jaw dropping result here since Jill Craybas knocked out Serena three years ago. Even bigger than Marion Bartoli dispatching Justine Henin the way she did in the third set of their semifinal last year.

“You think I played great, why thank you so much,” said a humbled and obvious enthralled Kudryavtseva. “For sure beating her is a big moment for me.”

Always against Sharapova, showing her that you have the controlled belief to beat her in the incipient stages of the match is crucial to whether you will do so. Establishing that mental frame and keeping it at the same level is integral against her. And Kudryavtseva displayed that so beautifully that Nadia Petrova should take notes from her 22nd ranked countrywoman on how to close out the 1st ranked one. Even through she failed to convert on break point opportunities in the first two Sharapova serve games, Kudryavtseva didn’t get down on herself. On the contrary, she continued to be clinical and sharp on her serve games, avoiding her own self-destruction and still taking the initiative with her compact strokes that work so well on the grass.

“I didn't say I was confident I'm going to win,” said the improbable winner of this match. “But I just thought I have to put myself in the frame of mind that if I have a chance I have to take it.”

Take it she did.

That mindset lead to the exact opposite on the other side of the net, as Sharapova equaled her holler of a performance at last year’s US Open to Aggie Radwanska to put it in the running of worst match of her career. The serve is of course the said be all of her game. But more essential to success for the IMG client though is what’s in her head. And especially important, the alpha key for whether Sharapova will ever be the consistent champion beating everyone at their best when the expectations are on her to do so will be how her head handles the pressure. The moments when someone challenges her all the way to pushing her on the brink of a crushing defeat, showing the spirit of refusing to submit to the vociferous grunts and intense style of Sharapova’s play.

Today, like her match against Safina in Paris, Radwanska in Flushing Meadow last year, and the beatdowns that Ana Ivanovic and the Williams sisters delivered to her in the recent 12 month epoch, Sharapova crumbled. And any of her fans would contest that she was the epitome of brutal like never before. Even more so than against the Polish teen in Queens last year.

It wasn’t just the fact that she was broken five times in nine serve games. How it unfolded had to be disheartening to her supporters. As Kudryavtseva was consistent and cynical, Sharapova was tense and terrible. The 2004 titlist at a stunning 17 year old stunned herself four years later with how awful she was on the baseline and in the middle of the court. Forehands into the net, backhands into the net and getting wrong footed constantly by her slightly younger, vastly less successful opponent, it was an array of negatives for Yuri Sharapov’s daughter. And though it was an amazing moment to see Kudryavtseva rise to the moment with a brilliant running forehand to seal the famous victory, the main story of the match was the unbelievable departure of Sharapova.

A shocking departure that can’t be attributed to those new garments or her assistant coach’s weird injury. Rather, folding to the expectations expected of her proved to be the reason for an embarrassing victory that most will remember, but that Sharapova will want to forget completely.

Posted by Syd 06/26/2008 at 09:24 PM

Chris:

well, that's true.

I'm surprised a rt-shoulder injury is only showing up now, the way he serves. Or, elbow. don't think he was asked about it in the presser that was published.

Posted by Naydal 06/26/2008 at 09:41 PM

I've been watching the Sharapova match and I agree that her game is one-dimensional, but I just don't see that as being the cause of her loss today. She was just totally off - she was missing the most basic shots. I don't see how being multi-dimensional would have helped her. When you're off, you're off. That other girl is pretty awful, too. I can't see Sharapova conceding even a few games to her on any other day.

By the way, does everyone generally like Tracy Austin? I find her incredibly irritating. I thought I only had to suffer through her commentary at the U.S. Open. I find myself turning the volume as low as possible just to avoid her voice (which is actually not a bad idea given Sharapova's outright screaming).

Posted by P. 06/26/2008 at 09:52 PM

Roddick's ideal game plan is very simple, I think:

- On serve: big serve out wide, forehand to the open court, repeat as necessary. The lethal one-two punch a la Lendl. Throw in some down the T, and a few body serves here and there. Serve and volley occasionally, but hit no approach shots: as someone said, Andy's ONLY approach shot should be his serve.

- On return: first serve, block the ball back into play, get to midcourt, and look for an opportunity to create an angle. Second serve, go for a big forehand winner if it's weak, otherwise as above. Focus on hitting FH winners as much as possible.

That's the plan that won him the US Open, and I think it could win him one more major if the stars lined up. Andy will never be a panache player; his game needs to be brutally and clinically efficient.

Posted by 06/26/2008 at 09:58 PM

I should add that there are a few players he'll never be able to serve off the court with this plan: Nalbandian, for one, who eats big servers for breakfast, and who really should've beaten him at the Open. Federer's another one. He just has to hope, especially in the case of Federer, that the other guy'll have an off day, and that his own serve will be at its best. If he's serving over 70%, and not overthinking things, Andy is always dangerous.

Contrast James Blake, who I agree desperately needs an additional tactical layer to his game. Because he's so fast, he has that option, but I think James enjoys the rush of hitting winners too much; like Safin, he thinks his A-game is the way it's supposed to be, and doesn't have much of a B-game. James should instead look to what Fernando Gonzalez did with his game at AO 2007 -- a great example of a player who (temporarily!) figured out how to combine screaming winners with smart tactics.

Posted by P. 06/26/2008 at 09:58 PM

I should add that there are a few players he'll never be able to serve off the court with this plan: Nalbandian, for one, who eats big servers for breakfast, and who really should've beaten him at the Open. Federer's another one. He just has to hope, especially in the case of Federer, that the other guy'll have an off day, and that his own serve will be at its best. If he's serving over 70%, and not overthinking things, Andy is always dangerous.

Contrast James Blake, who I agree desperately needs an additional tactical layer to his game. Because he's so fast, he has that option, but I think James enjoys the rush of hitting winners too much; like Safin, he thinks his A-game is the way it's supposed to be, and doesn't have much of a B-game. James should instead look to what Fernando Gonzalez did with his game at AO 2007 -- a great example of a player who (temporarily!) figured out how to combine screaming winners with smart tactics.

Posted by Ku 06/26/2008 at 10:06 PM

I think in sports, your natural age doesn't necessarily equate to your sports' age. For that reason, I beleive Sharapova, Ivanovic, Jankovic and Serena are wasting precious time. For all the talk about being 21, I do not see Sharapova being the big thing on tour in 5 years. She needs to try and win everything now, when no one is dominating, because once a player comes along who will dominate, she won't rule. The same applies for the Serbs, who in my opinion have the mental fortitude of melting butter. At 20+ they still haven't developed the killer instinct???? The tennis world better not wait with baited breath for it to come.
We all know about Serena and her story with slams etc, but I think as her mom pointed out, she will retire earlier than her sister because her tennis years seem to be more than Venus'. And I'm shocked that at 28, Venus is looking like she's enjoying tennis more than anything, even when she plays badly. I thought for sure she would retire early to escape Serena's shadow.

Posted by Happy 06/26/2008 at 10:07 PM

I'm thrilled Roddick and Blake lost. I'm also thrilled Sharapova lost. I'm even more thrilled that Nadal won. One of the happiest tennis days I've ever experienced.

Posted by Sha 06/26/2008 at 10:14 PM

I truly believe Sharapova lost because of that hideous outfit. The front looked like she ripped it off a fencer's outfit. Whenever Serena would come to the US in one of her fashions, she never performed well. Her disasterous denim outfit with the boots, her catsuit, that one year she wore the diamond earrings -- were all distractions and took away from her performance.

Ok, I really don't belive that! Just a crazy theory.

But hey, Sharapova played today as though she were 154 in the world. Then she said not playing the warm-up tournaments had nothing to do with her losing here. I disagree. Playing them couldn't have hurt as much as she may think. Oh, well. Ta-ta Maria. GO VENUS!

Posted by Jerell 06/26/2008 at 10:18 PM

Actually, through he had another disappointing lost there, I think Blake didn't play terrible today. Schuettler had a blast from the past today and showed he still has games.

Posted by Samantha Elin 06/26/2008 at 10:21 PM

Jerell, a nice take on the Sharapova match. I wasn't surprised that she didn't win Wimbledon. I never bought into the hype of Weirtheim or the odds makers that she was the favorite. I placed her at number 4 most likely to win it, behind both Williamses and Ivanovic. The favorite should have been the 4 time Wimbledon champion who defeated her twice to take two of those titles. Sharapova hasn't won this tourney in 4 years for the simple fact that she isn't, and has never been the best grass court player. My surprise was that she went out to a player ranked 154 in the world. My feeling was that Safina would take her out. The surprise for me was just the round she went out in and the player who did it.

Posted by FoT 06/26/2008 at 10:26 PM

I have said all along (for years) that while Connors and others have tried to work on Andy's net game and give him more opportunitites to get to the net and volley...THAT was not why Roddick would win or lose. He needs to work on his return of serve. He has a pretty good 'hold' game, but he has a louzy 'break' game. This hasn't developed in one year or two...it has been there all along. Andy's return of serve isn't in the top 20! (just my opinion)...

Posted by Jerell 06/26/2008 at 10:31 PM

really appreciate that Samantha.

They just got brought into the hype, and that troubles me with how pundits, estemmed tennis pundits, brought right into it with no reason. Wertheim had her not only beating Venus, but then Serena back to back I think!

And that troubles me as an analyst myself. Then again, I was totally wrong in the past and will be dead wrong in the future too.

Posted by Rob 06/26/2008 at 10:33 PM

Chris,
What big server has a better ground game than Roddick? Ljubicic? Karlovic? Ancic?

It's certainly none of those guys, so I'm curious as to who could mean.

Posted by 2h4h 06/26/2008 at 10:34 PM

You have to hand it to Roddick:

From his presser:
"Q. So you think that is a fair question we should be asking you? Win another slam or what? Or that is your feeling inside?

ANDY RODDICK: Well, I put the analogy to John and Doug. We were just talking in there. I said, You know, when you've seen the Rolling Stones from the front row, and then all of a sudden you're like, you know, seven or eight rows back and there's a really tall guy in front of you waving his hands and screaming, you can't see much, it's not going to be as good as the other show.

That's kind of what you're going to remember. Maybe you got to kind of get some baby steps to get back there. I know I was in that position in '06. Kind of almost started enjoying every single match I won again because it was void. It's a little bit of a different situation.

I mean, you can ask whatever you want. I'm telling you, you know, that's where my head's at. I want to win another slam. You know, if I'm being honest with you guys, and if you guys are being honest with me, if I go and win a tour event, what are you guys going to say? Who cares? "

Posted by Christopher 06/26/2008 at 10:34 PM

FoT-- There was actually a short article in Tennis within the last few months that pointed out that Roddick's return game has gone south in the last few years. He's serving just as well, but winning fewer return games and thus winning fewer matches. My guess is that this is one of the things Connors, arguable one of if not the greatest returner ever, was supposed to help him with. Didn't really work.

Posted by James 06/26/2008 at 10:43 PM

I'm still in shock that 4 of the top players are now out of Wimbledon. Nice article Pete, however I wish American tennis wasn't at a all time low.

Posted by MWC 06/26/2008 at 10:48 PM

Roddick's main problem as I see it, is he has entered a renaissance of his game where he has taken his style from an aggressive baseliner, to basically a counterpuncher. How else to explain that he plays 10 ft behind the baseline on GRASS?!! Even Nadal is playing tighter to the baseline at Wimbledon, and he IS a counterpuncher.

For years Roddick's serve has been terribly overrated. As hard a he hits it, Federer serves more aces and wins more cheap points. I agree with the sentiment on the blog that his return game is below average. I think Connors did improve his First serve return, but Roddick's second serve return is VERY weak. He never takes advantage, just content to push it back without much real intent other than to get the point started.

I have always felt, personally, that Roddick's one major (03 US Open) was a fluke. That was the year the rain was awful and the matches got so backed up. Yet the USTA found a way to get Roddick a day off between each match, and had Andre Agassi (12 or 13 yrs older) playing three best of five matches in consecutive days. Juan Carlos, who lost to Roddick in the final was simply out of gas, having playing 3 out of 5 for four consecutive days. That being said, I think he was a better player when he made the two Wimbledon FInals and when he got to the US Open final in 06, than he was in 03.

Roddick needs to p;ay tighter to the baseline, get back to dominating th rallies with his forehand, and look to move forward. Until he returns to that style of play he will continue to falter early and often in the majors.

Posted by lurking arod fan 06/26/2008 at 10:52 PM

Peter, thank you for yet another excellent and insightful post on the much-maligned Andy Roddick. Your fair points are always a welcome sight in a sea full of hateful and gloating Federer fans who are so distasteful with their smugness any time Nadal/Djokovic/Roddick losses.

Good luck to Andy and I hope he will be able to piece back together his confidence, and learn not fear oppotunity when it presents itself, in time for the US Open.

Posted by mick1303 06/26/2008 at 10:53 PM

I'm thrilled Roddick and Blake lost. I'm also thrilled Sharapova lost. I'm even more thrilled that Nadal won. One of the happiest tennis days I've ever experienced.
======================
Just the opposite on all four counts...
But it still can't overshadow the thrill of yesterday Marat's win.

Posted by Ku 06/26/2008 at 10:53 PM

To me, Roddick is just a glorified version of Karlovic.
As for the slump in American tennis, I'm not complaining (maybe because I'm not American). Americans seem content with contact sports being big, and tennis being old and traditional, while the rest of the world gets to enjoy all the 'boring' things about it. If Americans suddenly start getting re-interested in tennis and producing more champions in this era, I think they will change the game in a way that would defile it. Call me a purist, but that's me. So let the Americans stick to Basketball and football. Tennis is doing just fine without them.

Posted by ChrisL 06/26/2008 at 11:00 PM

Roddick's behavior at times makes him, to me, an unsympathetic character. Today I felt genuinely sorry for him. So frustrating to try so hard only to come up short. The match highlighted the limits in Andy's game. He was outplayed today by someone who showed versatility and intelligence in making the most of his opportunities and capitalizing on his opponent's weaknesses. If, as is likely, Tipsy blows his next match, this loss will be even harder for Roddick to bear.

Posted by voodoo hoodoo 06/26/2008 at 11:08 PM

I have always felt, personally, that Roddick's one major (03 US Open) was a fluke. That was the year the rain was awful and the matches got so backed up. Yet the USTA found a way to get Roddick a day off between each match, and had Andre Agassi (12 or 13 yrs older) playing three best of five matches in consecutive days. Juan Carlos, who lost to Roddick in the final was simply out of gas,
~~~~~~~

LOL. I can't believe there are still people out there who truly believe in USTA conspiracy theories. That's just a crazy kind of car-aaaazy!

Posted by MWC 06/26/2008 at 11:18 PM

Voodoo,

I'm not espousing to any conspiracy theory, just stated the facts that happened during the 03 Open. Whether or not there was intent by the USTA or not, the fact remains that Roddick was blessed with a dream scenario, that to his credit, he took full advantage of. But it was a fluke.

Posted by sally 06/26/2008 at 11:18 PM

ku-yep, that's us americans, defilers. i guess you are being defiled by being on an american tennis board.

Posted by Ruth 06/26/2008 at 11:18 PM

"Ugly" and "confounding"...these are the words I must borrow from Pete and Jon Reiss to characterize Roddick'e game today. I can't figure out what exactly went wrong. I felt the same when when Serena played that strange, listless, unforced-error-filled match to crash out of the FO this year. While Pete and others have nade some excellent points, I still feel as if there's some reason for those types of losses that has yet to be revealed.

Yes, voodoo hoodoo, and isn't it amazing how the USTA was able to arrange in 2003 for things like longer matches for certain players, rain coming on the days when certain players were already -- following the normal system -- scheduled to play??? LOL

On that ridiculous note, I think that I'll call it a night!

Posted by tellmeJO 06/26/2008 at 11:26 PM

Sha...I actually totally agree with you...whenever a huge deal is made about her outfits (ever since her Tiffany's dress) she seems to lose...ex: her Tiffany earings at this years French, the tuxedo short outfit...but most of all her NYC red dress...She is my favorite player and it seems that she just can't focus when a huge deal is made about it...she wore the most plain white dress at the Aussie Open and she won...I know this isn't WHY she lost but it is a trend...

Posted by Jerell 06/26/2008 at 11:38 PM

MWC,

I even think Roddick was more of a counterpuncher in 2003 than now to me. He would never miss back, but no one knew that he was more of a counterpuncher on the baseline than an actual attacker, especially on his backhand side. They were just intimidated by his serve, forehand, and his consistency back in the days.

Posted by Ku 06/26/2008 at 11:39 PM

Sally,

I apolologize for making that impression. I did not mean to say that Americans are defilers. I made that comment with Bill Simmons in mind (a few weeks ago, he wrote some suggestions of how to make tennis more exciting etc). I realize how it came out, and should not have phrased it that way. Sorry.

P.S. I can't hate America that much, I go to university here :)

Posted by Rasmus 06/26/2008 at 11:47 PM

Ancic has a better ground game than Roddick. Gulbis has a better ground game than Roddick. Safin has a better ground game than Roddick. Heck, even Soderling has a better ground game than Roddick, eh?

The ground game isn't the problem. I think Roddick hit on the head when he said he was pressing too much. He wanted it too much. That's the problem. I get the sense that he's slowly starting to doubt if he's ever going to win a Slam again. I know what he says - that he believes, that he's working his butt off to win another - but actions speak louder than words. His losses tell more than his wins. Sorry.

Truthfully, after Roddick, is there really an American going to challenge for Top 3 anytime soon?

Sharapova needs drama and adversity to play her A game. Here's the thing though - how much of that French choke did affect her mental game? For someone who's mentally tough, that's got to be eating her more than she's let on.

Posted by bobby 06/27/2008 at 12:19 AM

How can one say that the wimledon court was slow just because their favourate player looses.It is because of lack of allround play.Roddick served around 28 aces and the truth was that it was still not enough enough for him to win.He needs to improve on other aspects of the game rather than criticize the surface which helped him to serve nearly 30 aces.

Posted by 123456789 06/27/2008 at 12:28 AM

There are lots of players who are aggravating in some way as far as personality is concerned, but James Blake is not one of them. James is one of the nicest guys in the game, so the people who have posted that they were so glad Blake lost, I hope it was because that they don't enjoy his style of tennis. I mean, with what he has been through...

Posted by Andrew 06/27/2008 at 12:29 AM

The 2004 Wimbledon final between Roddick and Federer was the kind of match you'd expect to see played at Armageddon - if tennis balls could beg for mercy, they'd have been waving the white flag mid way through the second set. It was high class walloping.

Roddick since then has done many things well, but hasn't learned to do new things well. This is in stark contrast to one of his rivals, Nadal, who continues to fill out his game - better net play, better slices, more penetrating serves. Roddick's serve continues to be a huge weapon, but the man of 2008 is a little bit less than the finalist of 2004. Would it were not so.

Posted by Christopher 06/27/2008 at 12:35 AM

"For years Roddick's serve has been terribly overrated. As hard a he hits it, Federer serves more aces and wins more cheap points."

Have to disagree with the first part of this. The players themselves, including Federer and Nadal, have consistently named Roddick as of the two or three best servers on the tour and have specifically noted how effective his second serve is. Federer, by the way, does NOT serve more aces. For the year this far, Roddick has 380 in 29 matches compared to Fed's 317 in 45 matches. More importantly, Roddick has won 93% of his service games this year, the highest percentage on the tour (Fed is 3rd at 88%). He's also leads the tour in percentage of break points saved. That's simply not an "overrated" serve. Were Roddick's serve really just average, he would not have been consistently in the top ten for the last 5+ years given the rest of his game (he is, for example in 60th place for return games won). I'm not a fan of his play, but let's not pretend that serve isn't a truly major weapon.

Posted by Elevennis Anytwo? 06/27/2008 at 12:41 AM

Tennis is indeed a cruel game. Just ask Nathalie Dechy.

Roddick isn't really one-dimensional. He just has incompatible dimensions: great, point-winning serve and average, point-extending groundstrokes.

What these two days have shown, methinks, is the success of the 32 seeds. There now appears to be sufficient depth that even someone ranked around fifty can trouble the very best. It's not like all these upsets were caused solely by the seeds' ugly play. Kudryavtseva has lots of talent, Schuettler outhustled Blake, and Tipsarevic is explosive and smart (BTW, his interview is well worth the read).

These upsets have rarely occurred since 2002, the second year of 32 seeds at Wimby. This brings up an interesting question: Have the top players benefited from 32 seeds and therefore lost less often or have they played upset-proof tennis regardless of the opposition? I'm thinking here of Federer's streak of finals and semifinals and Djokovic's just-ended streak of semis.

Posted by Jerell 06/27/2008 at 01:08 AM

Rasmus is a genius, haha

Good night all.

Posted by Willrich 06/27/2008 at 01:08 AM

Go figure. James Blake can drive Federer and Nadal crazy, but then loses to someone ranked lower than he is. Roddick can stay with Federer and Nadal and lose to someone ranked lower than he is. Grant you, both of their opponents played well, however, at the majors one must step it up to another level. Blake, like Federer and Nadal, seems to be a class act. As an observer, however, I would like to see more intensity throughout his matches due to the fact he has great talent. He seems to only turn it on when he has to and often that is too late.

I thought Roddick could make the semis at least this year, however, his lack of an all-court game came to the forefront. Nonetheless, I still like the main man Federer to make history, six in a row. I think his toughest competition can come from Nadal, Murray, and possibly Gasquet now that A-Rod is out.

Posted by P. 06/27/2008 at 02:46 AM

"James Blake can drive Federer and Nadal crazy, but then loses to someone ranked lower than he is. Roddick can stay with Federer and Nadal and lose to someone ranked lower than he is."

Wha...? Blake's got a good record against Nadal, but he's never even come close to beating Federer. He's the player Roger's always happy to see -- whether as a friendly colleague or as an opponent, it's inevitably a pleasant experience for the Fed.

Other than this year's win over Roger, it's basically the same story with Roddick vs. Federer, though those matches have generally been closer (AO 2008 aside). It's true that it's somewhat uncharacteristic of Roddick to lose to lower-ranked players, especially on grass.

Posted by Lachelle 06/27/2008 at 02:51 AM

I have nothing to say about Blake but her is my take on both Andy and Maria. Both have limited games, and those games will sometimes catch people off guard, especially if Andy and Maria are on.

The problem is that people catch on to the those limited games and can seemingly fairly easy figure out a strategy to defeat them, especially if Andy/Maria is having a bad day.

Remember the US Open last year with Maria vs. Aggy. Aggy quickly figured out that Maria did not like to be pressured on serve and soon begin standing a few feet in front of the baseline to throw Maria off. It worked like a charm. Same thing happened today, Alla just used a different tactic.

What is surprising is that Maria and Andy both seem to be lacking a well put together strategy in case their opponent figures out their game.

Seeing the Andy, Maria, and Blake's of the world lose, and by extension Djokovic. Really make me appreciate the consistency and stamina of players like Federer and Nadal.

And I gotta say, I did get a kick out of seeing Djokovic lose after all the talking he did. Not only was it insulting to Roger but it was insulting to Nadal because keep in mind that the road to number 1 first goes through number 2 and that would be Rafa.

I think that tennis commentators in an effort to create drama where there is none completely play into these hyperbolic exclamations about the demise of both Roger and Rafa - as if ND is suddenly going to dominate because he beat Roger in the semis of the AO. Please. Right now ND does not have the consistency or the stamina to maintain a long run at number 2 or number 1.

Posted by Jenna 06/27/2008 at 03:21 AM

About Roddick's serve...

I think it's pretty obvious that it's a huge weapon, even when compared to the other serves on the tour. The problem is that most other guys who hang around the top 5 to 10 offer so much more in every other aspect of the game besides their biggest weapon. Roddick's all around game is clearly better than, say, a Karlovic but that's not the point. The problem is that, when compared to guys at the top of the sport, he offers very little. T

The thing that's supposed to help you when you have such an incredible serve is more than just holding. The point has been made, but he puts ZERO pressure on his opponents in their service games. Even Karlovic does that better at least some of the time. When you have a huge weapon you have to make the most out of it that you possibly can...which Roddick has become less and less good at as his career (and the game) has progressed.

Clearly American tennis is in some desperate times. But look at the other nations that host a GS - France, Britain and Australia, to some extent, have majorly lost their edge. Sure they have one or two players out there, but something about these little nations like Serbia can produce crazy tennis. I think it has something to do with the players needing tennis more. In America it could be maybe the third sport for the average, well-adjusted kid. But in these struggling nations, sometimes sports (and tennis) are the only option. This is especially true in places like Russia that produces so many great players. Anyway, it's interesting to think about.

Sad day for the Americans though - you'd think one of the guys would have been able to pull it out today in the second round!

Posted by cafe-au-lait 06/27/2008 at 05:02 AM

Sha...Just so you know, Serena did win the US Open the year she wore the infamous catsuit. But I do agree that Mariah (yes, diva Mariah) lost her match because of that butt-ugly shirt. And I love the fact that her opponent said later that her motivation to win was because she didn't like the outfit. So, Mariah,Stop being a fashionista and just play ball.
As for Roddick and Blake losing, I'm not that surprised. They haven't done a whole lot in a while and they were afterthoughts coming into this tournament. All I care about is to see somebody, ANYBODY finally beat Federer in the final (you hear me, Rafa?). The Spaniard came so close last year, and with Federer showing signs of vulnerability this year, Rafa needs to make this his house.
On the women's side, I hope anybody but the Williams sisters win. ANYBODY! Venus got a freebie in the final last year, and serena still looks a bit out shape. I've never enjoyed watching them play and I hope they get upset in the next rounds. Yes, I'm a Williams hater. Bite me.
With Shara, Djoko and the US men out, what is NBC gonna air this weekend?

Posted by Heidi 06/27/2008 at 05:18 AM

Hi from London, guys!

Can't believe this news. I missed what happened yesterday and got on email today to be stunned. Well, interesting to see what happens now. I am shocked by Kudryatseva, who I think I saw at the US Open last year and was really unimpressive. Erratic, sloppy, awkward, power but no skills, I would have said. What a difference a season makes.

Roddick and Tipsy, well, anyone who didn't think Tipsy could be dangerous was dreaming, but like most, I thought ROddick would make it through. Definitely a disappointing performance from the US men, evoking memories of that French 0-for-8 (was it 8 men?) day. What a tournament so far!

Posted by rg.nadal 06/27/2008 at 06:58 AM

Saw part of the Arod match. Looked like whenever Janko put the ball into play on Andy's serve, Janko was invariably winning the point. Very entertaining and charged-up match, in spite of a shock Arod defeat.

Posted by rg.nadal 06/27/2008 at 07:05 AM

Hello Heidi,
So cheering for Amelie today?

Posted by Hiram 06/27/2008 at 07:06 AM

Roddick appears to have the personality of someone who tends to try too hard. His strokes and movement don't look instinctive. He didn't need Connors, who never had the problem of a lack of instinct. Players who move and swing instinctively generally don't will their strokes. Roddick appears to be willing it all and the result is grotesque. When he relaxes he often reveals a weak instinct.

A tennis player's will should serve to free his instinct. The will should keep the mind free of fear, despair, complacence, and all manner of mental and emotional noise. The will should keep the body supple and ready. The will cannot force instinct.

The hope for Roddick would be that what appears to be the weakness of instinct is due to a misdirection of will, in which case redirecting his will would free his instinct.

Posted by 06/27/2008 at 07:07 AM

heidi: Sorry, the message was meant for cafe-au-lait.

Posted by rg.nadal 06/27/2008 at 07:07 AM

heidi: Sorry, the message was meant for cafe-au-lait.

Posted by Ruth 06/27/2008 at 07:20 AM

Hi there, Heidi! Sure you're having a ball.

I, too, wanted to see Alla Kudryavtseva at the USO last year because of the way she had played against Venus in the first round of Wimbledon 07, and she (AK) was unimpressive in her first round loss to Vaidisova. But she certainly came ready to play yesterday. I'll have to give her a second look in August...while I wonder how many more looks we will get at her at Wimby.

Posted by arbiter 06/27/2008 at 07:27 AM

Peter Bodo goes low again. Angry after the match, Roddick tried to make his opponent look bad, talking about Janko's second serves...when it was so OBVIOUS that Janko has, throughout the match CHANGED PACE on purpose, to get Roddick out of rhythm. Janko can serve 130+ m/hr serves if he wants to. But, against one dimensional players like Roddick, changing pace always works. It did this time to. He has also thrown MANY slow shots also, making Roddick go for his swings - and Roddick made errors.
This simple tennis tactic is used by many players - only mister Bodo is so angry that he does not see simple things.
Cutting down your opponent may feel good at the moment. It does not help in the long run, it makes you a low class nobody.

Posted by 06/27/2008 at 08:59 AM

Cafe-au-lait, you should be more concerned about your own character (or the lack thereof) than in whether or not someone agrees with your opinions.

Posted by James 06/27/2008 at 09:32 AM

Why do people label James Blake as "smart?" Sure, he went to Harvard, but that didn't teach him much apparently. Has anybody on this board (including Pete) ever seen this guy think/adjust/reevaluate in the midst of a tennis match? This guy knows one thing on a tennis court: BLAST AWAY. I'm an American but this tendency rears it's ugly head time and time again with our top players. The bounces aren't true enough on grass (or clay) for that style. Blake is a great mover and he should leverage that, moreso than his outright power (see: Nadal). I question Blake's pre-match strategy and I also question his coach, Brian Barker. What exactly is Brian Barker telling him??? Loyalty can sometimes be a hinderance. IMO, Blake should evaluate whether another set of eyes might help him take the next step. Why not?

Posted by Andrew Miller 06/27/2008 at 09:44 AM

I am amazed that TMB (Master Bodo) used Edward Munch's "The Scream" in this piece!

I agree that Andy Roddick choked. Of all the three players (Sharapova, Blake, and Roddick), Roddick had the greatest ability to see his way through to a win against a dangerous but only dangerous opponent in the versatile Tipsarevic. I also agree with other posts in that his game is less "raw", which makes his game slightly easier to deal with for opponents. I am really surprised by this loss, but given Roddick's performances in GS as of late (early loss, Tipsarevic, loss to Kohlschreiber, loss to Federer (that one was going to be lost!), loss to Gasquet, loss to Andreev (likely loss), loss to Federer at AO 2007 (likely loss) - three of those matches should have been "victories") maybe it's in keeping.

Maybe this is the most to expect from Roddick! He seems to be losing some winnable matches and creating some memorable quarterfinals from time to time. Unless he proves otherwise with a deep run at a slam, Roddick needs to take one match at a time. I was surprised when, in an interview with Gimelstob, he put himself as one of the favorites for the Wimbledon title (one of the five favorites), and I'm not sure what he based this on. He almost never took this posture, which is why it surprised me. The most under-valued position at a tournament must be that of the dark-horse.

Advice for players...if you are coming in under the radar at a tournament, count your blessings. It's the best spot to be in.

For the men's draw, if predictions based on results from the warmup tournaments...seems those are worth nothing anymore. Djokovic, finals at Queens, 2nd round loss at Wimbledon....Nalbandian, semifinals at Queens, 1st round loss at Wimbledon....James Blake, semifinals at Halle, 2nd round loss at Wimbledon....Michael Berrer, finals at Halle, 1st round loss to Djokovic at Wimbledon....Roddick, semifinals at Queens, 2nd round loss at Wimbledon.

Posted by Kenneth 06/27/2008 at 09:44 AM

I remember Roddick playing JC Ferrero from many feet behind the baseline during his '03 run to the USO title. He was not much more agressive than he is now, however, his forehand was a much more honed, sharper weapon than it is now. It used to be world class, now, it's outclassed by several players. So until that changes, he's effectively left with a single weapon, and that's not even close in today's game. Especially against the bh heavy hitters who also can break a point open with a forehand.

As for Maria, who knows. The match wasn't pretty for her, but for Kudryevtseva it couldn't have been better.

Just a quick word on the commentating. Everyone single player that has lost has been credited with playing poorly, and I really resent that. I guess the only persons playing well, according to them, are Federer and Nadal. The rhetoric surrounding losses has to be changed.

Posted by Andrew Miller 06/27/2008 at 09:58 AM

I think Roddick's singular focus on winning another slam is going to undo him at every slam. It works for Davis Cup where there are only 2 matches to pull through. But the slam is about endurance rather than an outlet for energy and conviction. Mr. Bodo was right to point out Roddick's "wanting it too much". That leads to tepid/bad decisions (playing it safe; paralysis; etc).

Federer seems to focus for every match at the slam. Sure, I imagine he sees himself through to the final when he sees a draw on day one, but Federer never phones in the result. He didnt do it against Monfils in the FO semifinal, and he wont do that here at Wimbledon either.

If Roddick is going to make another run, he has got to focus. That is easier said than done.

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