Next barometer for new Roddick? SAP Can Andy still be dandy?
Still no match for Federer, S.J. event may give answers vs. others
By Darren Sabedra, MEDIANEWS STAFF
SAN JOSE — Shortly before last month's Australian Open, Andy Roddick was assessing his chances of beating the big bully of the men's tennis tour, Roger Federer.
"There's still a long way to go," Roddick said, "but I'm a lot more optimistic."
Roddick didn't come close to conquering Mount Federer in Australia. In fact, the 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 outcome was worse than expected.
But as Roddick, 24, returns to San Jose this week for the SAP Open, two questions loom: Might the Federer debacle ruin Roddick's year? Or will the United States' top-ranked player keep building on the progress he has made since tennis legend Jimmy Connors started coaching him last summer?
The answers should begin to emerge when Roddick steps on the court at HP Pavilion. His opening-round match Wednesday will be his first on the ATP Tour since Federer crushed him in that Australian Open semifinal Jan.26.
"I don't think it's back to the drawing board for Andy at all," said Jim Courier, who was ranked No1 in the early 1990s. "Andy didn't play his best tennis. Roger played incredibly well. It would be way too soon for Andy to panic based on one match."
Pete Sampras isn't so sure about that. Like others, Sampras said he thought Roddick was on the verge of beating Federer after relatively close losses at the U.S. Open and the year-ending Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai.
But now Sampras suspects Roddick might have taken a step back.
"I think Roger wanted to set the record straight that he is clearly the best player," said Sampras, who won a record 14 Grand Slam tournaments.
"Roddick does have a big game, but he seems uncomfortable playing Roger. They play similar games :retard: , but Roger is that much better at it. Roger has that extra gear to impose his will. Roddick really doesn't."
That said, Roddick has played better under Connors' tutelage. He is coming to the net more. He uses his backhand with more power and precision. And, except for when he plays Federer, he is winning again.
In two Grand Slam tournaments with Connors on his side — last year's U.S. Open and this year's Australian Open — Roddick has reached a final and a semifinal. In the four Grand Slam events before Connors arrived, Roddick failed to advance beyond the round of 16 and lost in the first round twice.
Not surprisingly, Roddick said of Connors, "It's just great having a mentor and adviser who has been there before, who kind of gets what you're going through a little bit."
Connors, 54, hooked up with Roddick last July in Los Angeles. Soon thereafter, Connors, who spent a record five consecutive years at No.1 from 1974-78, was in Roddick's hometown of Austin, working with his pupil.
The week in Texas had immediate results. Roddick won his next tournament, in Cincinnati. It was his first title in nearly a year and set the wheels in motion for a run at the U.S. Open.
"I'm proud of him," Connors told the New York Times during the Open. "The way he's playing and the way he listens and the way he goes about his practicing, you don't find someone who's had his success to be willing to continue to do that."
But for everything Roddick has achieved in the sport, he has won only one Grand Slam tournament (the 2003 U.S. Open) and is 1-13 against Federer.
It's anyone's guess if Connors — who shares coaching duties with Roddick's brother, John — can do anything about either. If not for Federer, Roddick might have won the past two Grand Slam events. Instead, Roddick is still searching for answers.
Connors was unavailable for comment for this story. But, after Roddick's loss to Federer at last year's U.S. Open, he told the Times, "I'm going to give him a game, no matter who he plays. This is not building a game from the ground up. This is tinkering here and tinkering there to give him the opportunity to beat Roger Federer."
During his playing days, Connors was as feisty as anyone. He won eight Grand Slam tournaments, including five U.S. Opens. In 1991, Roddick was in the stands when Connors made his legendary last stand, a dramatic run to the U.S. Open semifinals at age 39.
Rekindling the stories must be great, right? Well, if they are, Roddick wouldn't know.
"I don't remember one time where he's been talking about his matches, what he did," Roddick said. "That's probably the part that's surprised me the most. I ask him a lot of questions about it. (But) he kind of focuses on what I have to do."
So, what are the workouts like? Extremely vocal?
"It's weird," Roddick said, "because he's not as loud and boisterous as you all might think. He's pretty demure. Very straightforward, very involved with the whole process."
Connors doesn't travel with Roddick to every tournament, so it's unclear if he will be in attendance this week. It also was uncertain if Connors would make it to Australia last month because his mother, the woman credited for making him a champion, had just died. But Connors was there, in time for Roddick to outlast Marat Safin in the third round.
"For him to be here in the flesh, we're really happy," Roddick said at the time.
Time will tell if Connors, Roddick's fourth coach since 2004, is the man to lead him to consistent greatness. Because in today's tennis, consistent greatness means only one thing: finding the key to beat Roger Federer.