Re: The "HELL YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" HC Thread (Cincy!)
From Steve Tignor's The Wrap blog on tennis magazine's site
The 2003 Show
Posted 8/20/2006 @ 9:36 PM
Sometimes you have to wonder about injuries. Are they all in the players’ heads?
Early last week, I lolled in the conference room at TENNIS Magazine’s office eating a sandwich and watching a brutally dull, rhythm-less match from Cincinnati between Andy Roddick and an Italian no-name with an Elvis-like upper-lip snarl. Actually, he did have a name, Daniele Bracciali, and a game, too. A strange one, with virtually no backswing on either of his ground strokes or his serve, but wicked propulsion on all three. A year ago, I sat in Centre Court at Wimbledon when Bracciali took Roddick to five sets. Along the way, he hit perhaps the hardest non-serve I’ve ever seen, cracking a forehand return that landed near the middle of the court but still rocketed past Roddick, who had barely finished his service motion by the time the ball thudded against the tarp behind him. It was the same story in Cincy. Bracciali controlled the action for most of three long sets with lightning strikes from the baseline. As events went downhill, Roddick began to hold his side, as if the injury that had forced him out of Los Angeles a couple weeks before was flaring up again. Roddick looked to his entourage in the stands and eventually called a trainer. In the ESPN booth, Patrick McEnroe and Cliff Drysdale speculated about whether he should continue to play with the U.S. Open only two weeks away.
Roddick, seemingly with some reluctance, stuck it out. In part this was because he couldn’t bear to lose another match, not right now—never mind his Open chances or his ranking. Bracciale maintained control of the points and had very good chances to win in each of the last two sets, but he flinched at the crucial moments. Roddick kept fighting off the Italian’s terse attack and was the one left standing in the end. His injury—what was the problem again?—was quickly forgotten.
For some reason, it never came back. Why? Most likely because Roddick was winning. This phenomenon isn’t limited to Andy, of course. I’m always amazed by how much less tired I feel after I win even a single point. But Andy took that winning feeling to a new level in Cincinnati, gaining confidence with each match. By the weekend he looked like the strutting, power-hitting No. 1 who struck fear into all of his opponents in 2003.
The key was his nighttime quarterfinal against Andy Murray. Roddick made this one into an all-or-nothing grudge match—Murray was 5-0 in sets against him, had sent him home from Wimbledon, and was now coached by his ex, Brad Gilbert. The charged atmosphere that Roddick created made for entertaining TV, but I was of two minds about it. On the one hand, I felt like Roddick overdid it. He glared at Murray all evening, smirked when he made him look bad on a drop shot, and preened like he had just won the Grand Slam when it was all over. It was enough to make even a Roddick fan feel for the scrawny teenager from Scotland. On the other hand, it worked: Roddick succeeded in making his opponent buy into the showdown concept. Early on, Murray took a short ball and drilled it right at Roddick, missing badly. From there, he couldn’t calm down enough to play his usual controlled style. It had become personal, and that wasn’t going to work for Murray in front of a buzzing audience in middle America. Once he knew Murray was willing to get personal, Roddick used his anger and the crowd’s support to play tightly aggressive tennis. It wasn’t until Murray was down two breaks in the second that he showed off his trademark variety and point-construction skills. He began to win points, but it was too little too late.
Roddick didn’t need to make the final against Juan Carlos Ferrero personal. Both guys must have been equally happy to be there. They had each spent time at No. 1 in 2003, the final year of the pre-Federer era, but they had struggled since. Shockingly, neither had won a tournament this year or a Masters title since 2004. But as in their ’03 U.S. Open final, Roddick had too much hard-court firepower for the Spaniard. Andy’s serve was particularly effective. This might not sound like much of an observation about the man who’s hit the five fastest serves in history, but lately it had seemed that Roddick’s opponents were learning to handle his big first delivery. Not this week: Andy placed his serve the way he had when he was dominating, hitting lines both out wide and up the T. Otherwise, he played a solid, pressing baseline game. His backhand wasn't spectacular, but he hit it with conviction and didn’t let any of his opponents exploit it. Finally, Roddick forced his way to the net as often as he could. What he lacked in volleying skill, he made up for in hard-charging intimidation.
Roddick played all his matches on his terms, and if he does that at the Open, he’s once again a threat. Hey, I picked him to win it at the beginning of 2006, and I haven’t been wrong in the men’s Slams yet—not that choosing Federer, Nadal, and Federer in the first three took a whole lot of prognosticating genius.