If you’re a top player on the professional tennis tour and there is a real possibility that you will never reach the number one ranking again for the rest of your career, how do you make peace with that?
Andy Roddick is moving sideways. In the past three years he’s gone from being number one to number two and is now in a holding pattern at number three. He changed his game to attack the net more and it hasn’t worked. Ivan Ljubicic beat him last year in the first round of the Davis Cup and Marcos Baghdatis beat him in the fourth round of the Australian Open. Those players are moving up and he’s not.
If you’re Roddick at this point and you look at your situation, you think that you can win a few more slams, Roger Federer isn’t going to win all of them after all, and bring home a bunch of Davis Cup titles. That would stand as a good career.
Roddick doesn’t need to come to the net, he just needs to get to the baseline.
So this week’s Davis Cup tie with Romania becomes a huge event. You certainly don’t want to flame out in the first round like you did against Croatia last year. You’d much rather use this event to get yourself back on the right track. The pressure might make you nervous and nerves could result in an upset stomach or even abdominal cramps. In an interview with Bud Collins after the match, Roddick both admitted that Davis Cup can give you a case of nerves and insisted that the bout of vomiting during his loss on Friday was completely physical. That about covers it all.
I was one of the people who called on Roddick to attack the net more. I wanted him to be challenger instead of a perennial lose to Federer and coming forward seemed like the best strategy to complement the fastest recorded serve in ATP history. But I was wrong. That’s not his game and now his confidence is suffering. Roddick doesn’t need to come to the net, he just needs to get to the baseline.
In today’s Davis Cup reverse singles match, Roddick played Razvan Sabau, a substitute for Victor Hanescu who had to retire with an injury in the doubles match yesterday against the Bryan brothers. Sabau is a journeyman who’s been on the tour for fifteen years and is currently ranked number 110. In the first game of the match, Roddick hit nine slice backhands in one rally. What was the point of that? If Sabau was a power hitter, you might want to feed him junk to avoid giving him pace, but Sabau is a lightweight. It not only didn’t make sense but it allowed Sabau, a baseliner, to develop a rhythm on his ground-strokes and gave him hope because he knew he could stay in a rally with Roddick. With Sabau down 0-40 and an opportunity to go up 5-3 in the second set, Roddick got a second serve to hit. What did he do? He stood a few feet behind the baseline and hit a return smack dab in the middle of the court. If you won’t attack with three break points, when will you attack?
You might as well roll over on your back and offer up your tummy.
When Roddick lost to Joachim Johannson two years ago and Gilles Muller last year in the US Open, you could say that he just happened to run into players who were having a career day. Johansson and Muller played the match of their lives. It’s more likely that, instead of taking the game to them, Roddick gave them hope by playing behind the baseline. If you’re a power player and you set up behind the baseline, even on second serves, that tells your opponent that you are on the defensive. You might as well roll over on your back and offer up your tummy.
Sabau, by the way, did stay on the baseline and took more than a few trips forward. He was smart, he only came forward when he knew he could put the approach away. He was too inconsistent to be effective and he self-destructed towards the end of the match to lose, 3-6, 3-6, 2-6, (the US won the tie 4-1) but it’s a strategy Roddick should adopt.
When Brad Gilbert took over as Roddick’s coach, the first thing he did was move Roddick behind the baseline on service returns. Gilbert correctly identified Roddick’s return as the weakest part of his game. After Gilbert was fired, the new coach, Dean Goldfine, didn’t correct Roddick’s court position on second serves and seems to have condoned Roddick’s deep positioning during rallies. Now Goldfine is gone too. Roddick just hired his brother John to coach him.
Roddick realizes that he’s at a crossroads in his career and getting back to his game, which his brother is most familiar with, would be a good move. Hopefully Roddick can find a way to attack within his comfort zone. Finding a comfort zone on the court might also help him deal with the huge expectations put upon him by the media and fans. If Bud Collins is questioning your ability to deal with pressure in a big match, then you know it’s coming from all sides.