Re: The "let's erase the last 6 months from our minds" Australian Swing Thread
Resolute Roddick working out the kinks
Wednesday, January 6, 2010 | Feedback | Print Entry
Posted by Tom Tebbutt, ESPN.com
BRISBANE, Australia -- Andy Roddick enters 2010 as the world No. 7 after a year in which he won just one title (Memphis), missed the last two months with a knee injury but still watched his respect/popularity levels rise to the highest of his career.
That's mainly the result of his memorable performance in the 2009 Wimbledon final, an all-time thriller of a match that he lost 16-14 in the fifth set to Roger Federer.
Larry Stefanki, the hard-wired, effervescent bundle of energy who has coached Roddick for a little more than a year, believes in the redemptive quality of that loss: "The future's bright," he said about his player in light of the Wimbledon '09 experience. "It shows me that he can play on the biggest stage in our profession and come within one point of taking the title. So, in that sense, he's thinking, 'I got nothing but greater things to come.' And that's the mentality he's taken. All the people in the United States, when he sees them, they keep bringing it up and it actually makes him feel better. He doesn't take losses easily, but I think that really helped him because it actually got beyond the win-loss, it was more about the duration, the competition, and it was a great reflection on our sport."
Davis Cup teammate and longtime buddy James Blake, 30, chimes in about the Wimbledon effect: "I think it's changed the fans' outlook a little bit on Andy. People have maybe felt he gets a lot of things given to him because of that serve, that a lot of matches come easy. But I think they realize how hard he works, just how passionate he's been about this sport for so long. It's a good thing because we've all known that as players -- especially his friends that see him competing so hard for Davis Cup. In terms of his mind, I think it's shown him he's just one or two points from it -- and he can do it. There's no reason for anyone to think he's over the hill or he's lost anything in his game. In my opinion, he's a better player than when he was No. 1 in the world. Give him another chance and he's got as good a chance as anyone to beat Roger at Wimbledon and to be holding that trophy."
Currently into the quarterfinals of the Brisbane International after wins over Australians Peter Luczak and Carsten Ball, Roddick, 27, is playing a tour event for the first time since he had to retire from a match in Shanghai in mid-October with a left knee injury.
"I feel eager, eagerness isn't my problem," Roddick said. "I enjoy playing -- it's not a job for me. But probably I feel a little more anxious -- sitting around doesn't do me too well."
This time last year, he was also returning from injury -- to his right ankle, which forced him out of the year-end Masters Cup after one match. "I felt like the last two offseasons were pretty similar," he said. "I was able to run in a straight line and work out before I was able to play tennis. I was able to get on a bike -- the injury prevented me from switching directions -- but I was able to run on a track and stay in shape, which was a good thing."
Stefanki spent 16 days in December working with him. "We tried to do what we did last year," Stefanki said. "We'd go two-a-days, three-a-days -- two-a-days on the court for like five hours and then going to the gym [lifting] after. He was killing himself."
But Roddick's coach didn't want any part of tennis with him before he was physically prepared. "Tennis is played in a rectangular box, so there's a lot of cutting," Stefanki said. "If you look aerially, it's side to side, forward and back. Andy's trainer [Doug Spreen] has this drill called 'the box drill' that they do, side-to-side, back-forward. I didn't want to get involved with Andy until he could do it. He kept telling me, 'The box drill is a killer, Larry.' I was like, 'I know, when you can do the box drill, that means you're ready to play this game at your level. And I can't help you until you're at that level.' With a bad knee, that's not easy. That's why he took a lot of time off, but now I think it was the right thing. He's very eager, he's very fit. He's only played one match, and he lost it, since the [U.S.] Open. So there is a lot of anxiety, but he's a great competitor, so he has that to fall back on. It's nice to work with a guy like that."
Following his 7-6 (0), 6-3 win over Ball on Wednesday, a match that featured him making a stellar 83 percent of first serves, Roddick said about his knee: "It was fine. It's going to be stiff but there's a difference between stiff and pain, as long as you're staying away from pain -- you're fine. When I'm running around out there, I'm not feeling it."
Stefanki has a simple credo for Roddick after his hiatus from the circuit: "I always try to tell him, 'Disregard everything that you've done, start from square one -- a point at a time, first serves in, play the percentages, work the point.' For Andy it's easier than for some other guys. He knows he's not the most talented, gifted shot-maker -- he's a worker, a grinder, a great server and a great competitor. So he's got to fall back on the things he does well."
In Friday's quarterfinal, he faces Richard Gasquet and holds a 2-1 head-to-head advantage over the Frenchman. But he lost their most recent match, 4-6, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (3), 8-6 in the 2007 Wimbledon quarterfinals.
"I've been pretty good at keeping leads in my career, and pretty good at closing out matches when I need to," Roddick said. "But that one against Richard is probably the biggest one I let get away in terms of having a grip on a match -- two sets and a break. But that was 2½ years ago, a lot has happened to both of us since then. It's not something I think about too often."
About the matchup, Roddick said, "I'm certainly aware of his talent level. You just try to make it physical and see what happens."
Looking a little further ahead, Roddick is 30-8 during his career at the Australian Open. On Tuesday, while doing a photo shoot (holding a koala bear, touching an olive python snake and feeding kangaroos) at the Lone Pine Sanctuary in Brisbane with his wife, Brooklyn Decker, he said: "It's weird because I've played well here -- I've made the semis in Melbourne four times. They're pretty good results, but I don't have that standout result. I'd certainly like another chance."
The ever-sanguine Stefanki believes he will get one. Again referencing that career-transforming final at Wimbledon, he said: "Even Roger [Federer] in the locker room afterwards, when I talked to him, said, 'It's really hard to believe that somebody had to lose that match.' But someone does. That's sports. But I think it's going to help Andy in the long run. I consider this the last quarter of his career, and it's going to help him a lot because he knows he can handle the big stage. And he if he puts himself in the arena enough, good things are going to happen."