It’s hot and the humidity is oppressive in New York in August. Serena Williams’ dog, Jackie, a star in the Venus and Serena reality show, is in the audience. It’s Jackie and Serena’s sixth anniversary. Maybe the $40, 000 chandelier earrings Serena wears during her first round match are an anniversary gift. They go well with the maroon and white tennis outfit which has a lot of straps and a stripe below the bra that I thought was a cutout – an excellent idea by the way, an air vent for sports bras. Serena breezed past Yung-Jan Chan from Taiwan in one hour and eighteen minutes, 6-1, 6-3, but she’s still getting into shape because you can see her huffing and puffing.
Speaking of couture, Rafael Nadal sprinted to the baseline in a tight fitting, fire engine red body shirt – he now looks like an NFL linebacker – and black capri pants. Are short tight pants coming back next? He beat American Bobby Reynolds easily. Nadal, ever the kid, already had a hole in his shirt by the end of the match. Maybe he is like the Hulk, growing so fast that he tears through a shirt in an afternoon before our very eyes.
This is all great style and clothing but not much drama so it seemed like a good idea to see how Richard Gasquet turned an easy win into a difficult five set match. Before I got around to watching that on tape, though, I watched Andy Roddick’s first round match against Gilles Muller.
Why do announcers have to forecast the US’s abominable language skills by mispronouncing Muller’s first name? It’s French o.k. You pronounce it zheel not zheels. And then there is the last name of Gael Monfils. It’s pronounced “monfeese” no “monfeel”.
This is New York, it’s the American grand slam and Andy Roddick is playing under the lights in front of his home crowd. Muller doesn’t have a home crowd. There is no ATP tournament this year in his tiny country of Luxembourg.
Muller lost to Andre Agassi in the Mercedes Benz Cup final this July in Los Angeles. A few different plays by Muller on critical points and the outcome could have been different. Agassi is a smarter player than Roddick. He makes adjustments during a match when required. Roddick, instead, forces his game on his opponent with his serve and power and if that isn’t successful, he’s slow to adjust. If his first serve isn’t working, he doesn’t switch to a slower, better placed serve. If he’s not able to handle the serve wide, he doesn’t move in to cut off the angle.
Muller might be ranked 68th and he did lose in the first round of the Pilot Pen tournament in New Haven last week, but he’s a tough first round opponent. He has beaten Agassi in the past and he beat Nadal at Wimbledon.
Roddick gets an early break in the first set to go up 5-2. He serves for the set at 5-3 but plays a sloppy game and Muller is able hold his serve and force a tiebreaker. By this time, Roddick has put up a 146 mph serve and Muller has hit 126 mph. But Muller has more aces because he places the ball better. Muller has been to the net 11 times and Roddick 2. You can see the pattern here. Roddick is serving as hard as he can and Muller is moving the serve around and attacking the net.
In the tiebreaker, Muller comes to the net 6 times and takes the tiebreaker to win the first set.
Why hasn’t Roddick learned to play more aggressive tennis by now? He beat Lleyton Hewitt, who’d beaten him six out of seven times, in the semifinals of the Cincinnati Masters event by coming to the net every time he served in the second set tiebreaker. Yet here he is again, down a set and playing timidly. He has three unforced errors at the end of the first set. That means he’s not taking chances.
He also seems subdued. Early in his career he would pump his fist and play to the crowd. He has yet to raise his voice. At one point he runs all the way back to the baseline to track down a lob then spins and hits a gorgeous shot down the line to force an error. He doesn’t even smile. He just gets ready to receive the next serve. Today is his 23rd birthday. Is he already beaten down by expectations and disappointment?
Andy’s mojo, his happy go lucky, partying, carefree inner self who stirs up the town in those American Express commercials, is sitting in the stands in his cowboy hat next to Mardy Fish, not inside Andy where he should be. If the emotional arc of the remaining commercials has Andy’s mojo reuniting with Andy’s psyche, American Express might want to rewrite them very quickly. It’s not as bad as the Reebok Dan and Dave commercial fiasco for the 1992 Olympics that featured the competition between decathletes Dan O’Brien and Dave Johnson. It never materialized because O’Brien missed all of his pole vaults jumps in the Olympic trials and failed to make the team. Still, Roddick is likely to hear about it for some time.
Muller gathers momentum after his first set win. He serves a ton of aces and lot of his balls land on the lines. He’s playing the game of his life and that’s bad luck for Roddick but he’s also out-thinking Roddick. He repeatedly serves wide to Roddick’s backhand for aces and service winners and uses surprise drop shots. In the second set tiebreaker he runs Roddick wide and hits a winner to the open court.
Roddick does end up coming to the net 27 times but wins only half of those points. He loses two more tiebreakers and goes out in the first round at the US Open, 7-6(4), 7-6(8), 7-6(1).
I am one of those people who wonder why he fired Brad Gilbert as his coach. I understand that Gilbert and Roddick’s father disagreed about Roddick’s schedule and Gilbert’s personality might have been too big for Andy’s state of mind, but he was clearly doing well under Gilbert’s tutelage.
A good coach should bring about a constant improvement in their player’s game. Roddick should be regularly approaching the net and winning more than half of those points when he does. He should be making adjustments on his return of serve game if his opponent is repeatedly hitting wide shots by him. These things should be automatic by now.
I went to a Los Angeles Dodgers home game last week. After Dodger pitcher Brad Penny had just walked a batter, a young kid sitting a few rows behind me stood up and yelled at the Dodgers manager, “Tracy, yer a bum!” I thought I was back in Brooklyn watching the Brooklyn Dodgers for a minute there.
Some things never change in sports. If the team isn’t playing well, you fire the coach. If Andy Roddick is the only player you have, then the coach has to go.