Proving his mettle
First-round loss in last year's U.S. Open gives top-seeded Roddick lots of motivation this week
By Phil Stukenborg
February 19, 2006
For Andy Roddick, the loss was shocking, upsetting and defining.
It came in the first round of last year's U.S. Open. Gilles Muller, a 22-year-old left-hander from Luxembourg, surprised Roddick, the two-time Wimbledon finalist and 2003 Open champion, in straight sets.
Neither Roddick, a national television audience nor a large crowd watching under the lights at the sport's most electric venue could fathom what had happened.
Roddick had entered the Open with momentum. He had reaching the finals of two events -- Washington, D.C. and Cincinnati -- in the preceding weeks, beating James Blake for the title in D.C. and finishing second to Roger Federer, the world's top-ranked player, in Cincinnati..
The loss to Mulles in three tiebreak sets stunned Roddick.
"To be completely frank," Roddick said. "It (ticked) me off, kind of put a chip on my shoulder.
"But I think I work better like that. It gave me something to prove, which is nice. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise."
Roddick, who will be the top seed in this week's Regions Morgan Keegan Championships at The Racquet Club, apparently is serious about "having something to prove."
He spent six weeks after his final 2005 tournament doing strength and fitness training and trying to become "a better athlete in general." He started 2006 by changing coaches, dropping Dean Goldfine -- after one year -- and replacing him with his brother, John Roddick.
"I'm definitely going to take a lot more aggressive mindset into this year," said Roddick, the world's No. 3 player and 2002 Memphis champion.
He hopes the addition of his brother to Team Roddick becomes a key ingredient.
"I just felt like I needed something fresh," Roddick said. "It was more a mutual decision (to change) between (Goldfine) and I. We just felt like it was, maybe, a little stagnant ... something wasn't clicking.
"John is going to be great. He knows me as well as anybody. He'll obviously be taking opinions from people like (U.S. Davis Cup captain) Patrick (McEnroe) who have seen me play a lot. I'm excited. I'm excited to be out there with my brother."
Roddick opened 2006 by reaching the round of 16 at the Australian Open, where he was eliminated by rising Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis. He'll come to Memphis after appearing in the SAP Open last week in San Jose.
And he'll display a more aggressive approach.
"The biggest thing with me is just mindset ... going out there and being aggressive on every ball," he said. "I did a good job of that after the (U.S.) Open. The biggest thing that upset me about at the Open was that (Muller) played more aggressively than I did.
"That shouldn't be the case with what I'm able to do with the ball. I think being fit and trying to take as aggressive a mindset in (2006) are two keys."
To become more aggressive is a process, McEnroe said. As much as Roddick would like instant results, it takes time.
McEnroe said Roddick's match against Baghdatis in Australia showed some similarities to Roddick's match against Muller.
"What it takes for him is to go out there and play aggressively and play his game," McEnroe said. "He said it himself. He wanted to play on his terms. I didn't think he did that entirely against Baghdatis.
"I like to see Andy being aggressive, taking chances. When I see someone hitting more winners and getting more errors than Andy, someone who doesn't have the same firepower that Andy does, then I get concerned."
Roddick won five tournaments last year to boost his career total to 20, but McEnroe envisions a more successful player once he adjusts to playing more aggressively.
"More aggressively to me doesn't just mean hitting the ball harder," McEnroe said. "More aggressively to me means improving your positioning and being aware of when to move forward.
"The nice thing about Andy is that he's not afraid to work. He's not afraid to take a loss to realize what he has to do."
Roddick's transition to being more aggressive, McEnroe said, will require fighting through his instincts. Although Roddick is a strapping 6-2 and 195 pounds, he wasn't an imposing figure as a junior.
"He grew up as a small guy," McEnroe said. "He grew up as a guy that was really sort of a counter-puncher as a player. Part of his instinct is to play that kind of style when he gets into a tight match.
"He (needs to) trust in the fact that when he is playing aggressively he's still going to lose matches, but in the long run he's going to be a better player."
Roddick is intent on making the necessary alterations. He'd love to return to the world's No. 1 spot, a position he held in 2003. And he'd love to win his first Grand Slam in three years, even if Federer, emerging as one of game's all-time greats, is the obstacle.
"I think it's more of a mindset thing," Roddick said of playing more aggressively. "I think it's something that you can try to make happen from the word go. I'm extremely eager. I'm really excited. I'm really looking forward to this year ... probably more so than any other in my career."