Andy's Coaching Carousel
By now, most of you may know that Andy Roddick has ever-so-gently fired Dean Goldfine and brought his brother John on board as coach, effective immediately. The announcement was discreetly made at Andy's website, according to most news sources. In fact, it was so discreetly made that I couldn't find any mention of it for two days. Well, Andy's website now has the full story, courtesy of crack South Florida Sun-Sentinel tennis writer Charlie Bricker.
You’ve got to feel for Goldfine; it wasn’t like Roddick had an awful year. He didn’t gain ground on Roger Federer (if anything, he may have lost a little), yet nobody besides breakout star Rafael Nadal gained on Andy, either. Brad Gilbert has some interesting comments on Roddick’s situation here.
So the Roddick juggernaut will now be a family operation. My gut reaction to this setup is always similar: It strikes me as challenging in the same way that actually having to compete against a sibling, or going into business with one, can be a real minefield. On the other hand, Michael and Carl Chang had a pretty good—and certainly lengthy—run a few years back, and there’s nothing wrong with the way Mary Pierce played last year under the tutelage of her brother, David. She had a career year and vaulted into contention for a place in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. That’s not too shabby.
John will be Boy Andy’s third coach in 14 months, which tells you that either Roddick is very difficult to work with, or that he’s setting a very high standard for himself—and his coach. Clearly, it’s the latter. Andy hasn’t really had a bad loss since the U.S. Open first-round shocker last September (he lost to journeyman Gilles Muller), and anybody who thinks the stumble against Marcos Baghdatis in Melbourne a few weeks ago was inexplicable simply didn’t watch—or adequately appreciate—the run Baghdatis was on.
The money quote from Bricker’s piece:
One thing he will emphasize is getting his brother to move closer to the baseline, instead of playing way back, where he got a longer look at the ball but had farther to hit it.
Granted, Roddick has terrific mobility for a guy who stands 6-foot-3. But it’s still questionable whether someone with so much muscle and bone to move can haul it around as fast as necessary to play effectively from inside the court. Players who have made the most of taking the ball on the rise tend to be the cruiserweights (Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi); the most muscular guy I can think of who played from inside the court was Jim Courier, who did it to devastating effect. Still, none of those men is nearly as big as Andy.
At another level, though, creeping up closer to the baseline would compliment perfectly the spadework Goldfine and Roddick did last year in getting Andy to attack his service returns with more gusto. The bottom line, I think, is that Andy was molded as a physical, punishing, consistent, unbreakable, inexhaustible baseliner; if there’s something going on here in the bigger picture, it’s his wish to morph into an aggressive all-courter developing an appetite for forcing play and even attacking the net.
In a way, Roddick’s struggle to keep pace with Federer (and, to a lesser degree, Nadal) makes him very appealing. It underscores his professionalism and pride. It’s also fascinating to watch this gradual transformation. A guy like this—any top pro, for that matter—has so much history, so much habit to overcome in any attempt to change his game. Its kind of like watching an oceanliner coming about. I’ve got to believe serious tennis nuts and aficionados of the game appreciate the nuances involved.
A lot of critics bemoan the “one-dimensional” nature of Roddick’s game (big serve, big forehand, big dropoff), but that game has been changing, without Roddick paying a high price. This is no mean feat. Just look at the way every female prodigy who’s come down the pike has a fine practice-court volley (the doubles proficiency of stars who rarely venture to the net in singles is telling), yet never makes good on the promise to develop more of an attacking game.
It’s hard to change a pro’s basic game. Very hard.
There’s been a lot of buzz lately about Roddick and Maria Sharapova; some have suggested that both are saddled with games that will keep them stuck just below the very top level. There’s some truth in that, but remember—Roddick has been in the last two Wimbledon finals, and the year before that he made the semis (he lost to Federer on all three occasions). That’s a great record at the most important tournament of them all.
I think Roddick will win Wimbledon one day, and he’ll be in the mix at the very top for a long time.