Eating Crow With Andy

So we’re here today in Melbourne at the Australian Open, and we’re about to have lunch. But it is not a happy lunch, for we are having crow. At least, I’m having crow. This as a direct result of my cherished belief that Roger Federer and Andy Roddick were destined to find each other in the final. Apparently Marcos Baghdatis did not hear this proclamation from the mount, so the 54th seed from Cyprus took Number two Andy Roddick out of the tournament in four sets. He outplayed Roddick for the bulk of the match, going away only in the second when Roddick kept his serve on track enough to win the set, 6-1.

A key moment came in the fourth set, with Baghdatis serving. He unloaded on a monster forehand, then an ace, to consolidate his earlier break and go up 4-2. The power exchange between the two men came at this point. Andy never recovered, and time was running out. He was the bigger man physically with the more powerful weapons, but his timidity held them in check. It was Baghdatis who took it to Andy; Andy could not return the favor. The long first point of the last game seemed to encapsulate the match’s demeanor: you had one guy manning the baseline, the other guy positioned in back of it. Andy lost four straight points on his serve, with Marcos Baghdatis clinching the win with a crushing forehand winner cross-court.

The question would arise, what happened to the so-called Roddick new leaf, which called for more fitness and, more importantly, more aggression? It was strangely absent today. But perhaps we are asking the wrong question of Roddick. Do we really believe it’s mainly a matter of aggression on court, or is it really a matter of how well he perceives the game at that particular moment in a match, and himself within that moment. I’m posing a strategery question here, as Dubya would say.

Does Andy know where he is moment by moment? I am wondering now if he fully does. Because he makes these god-awful shots at times, I find myself yelling, “Why did you try that shot for heaven’s sake?” or “What are you doing hitting it there?” or “Why are you standing way back there?” That last one everybody in the house was asking, it became the refrain of the day. “What is he doing standing so far back?”

Here’s this guy who’s just built for power every which way, from that killer serve to the big forceful forehand. But he hugs the baseline. He’s like Ferdinand the Bull, the most ferocious bull on the block until he makes it into the ring, and there he sits down and smells the flowers.

Patrick McEnroe has offered some excellent insights into why Andy may be reticent to come forward at least to the baseline. When Andy was a youngster he was small, his style of play adjusted for this fact, he became a baseliner, a guy capable of staying back and getting into a rhythm from there. Then, at 16 or so, he got a new surge in growth. Suddenly he was tall and powerful, he developed a forceful serve. But his new weapon was at war with his basic tennis training, to hug the baseline, to stay back. You’d think anything beyond the baseline up to the net was a vast stretch of the Gobi Desert, to be avoided at all costs. It’s only when Andy is getting really burned that he starts serving and volleying more, and trying generally to move his game forward. But by then it’s often too late.

We were seeing some of that war in the match today.

I question whether he is fully attuned to the moment. Because if he were, these choices in shots would disappear and better ones would replace them. Andy would not let himself get pushed around the way Baghdatis treated him today. It takes a bit of time to develop a feel for bigger strategy on court, but the guy has got to make the effort to think his way better through points. Regard it as an extension of the hard work Roddick has put in physically leading up to the Open.

Marcos Baghdatis has a compact, solid game, like the guy himself. At age 20, Baghdatis is barely catching the tail end of that train of guys who have been highly touted as the new wave of men’s tennis. Guys like Thomas Berdych, Richard Gasquet, Andy Murray, Gael Monfils. But those guys are all gone from the draw now, and here is Baghdatis, ready for his hot date with Croatia’s Ivan Ljubicic, who easily took down Sweden’s Thomas Johansson in straight sets. It probably won’t be a great quarterfinal, as Ljubicic is much more experienced and has had a great year of play. But kudos for Baghdatis for injecting some new energy and pizazz into the game. He deserves to be here.

It must be painful for Andy to lose a match like this, and to lose it because he got outhit, on both forehand and backhand sides. He was even out-aced by Baghdatis. It’s not always about power though, or even being aggressive. I would suggest Roddick spend less time at the poker tables and more time watching someone maybe like Martina Hingis. Does this woman lose her way on court? Does she ever get out of position? Do we ever say of her, “Why did she hit THAT shot?”

Because of her lack of power, Martina has had to develop her game via the gray stuff between her ears. Because of his great power resources, Andy has been able to put that style of playing on hold.

Now he may really have to become a “student of the game.”

Well, our waiter has arrived with the plat du jour and a lovely bottle of Chateau de Garlic, from Gilroy California. The taste is so powerful that they suggest chilling it first. I’m told it helps.

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