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Stars and strife: A-Rod nears his last shot


 

Originally published on: 03/08/10 12:41

Andy Roddick’s hard court form at the start of the season prompted whispers that 2010 would be his year. His place in the big three and a spot amongst the elite of the tennis world beckoned once again. Better yet, 2010 was to be the year he would finally win that second Grand Slam he so deserved, or so they said.

Victory in Brisbane in January preceded runs to the final in San Jose and Indian Wells, before Roddick snapped a three-match losing streak against Rafael Nadal to grab a spot in his fourth final of the year at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.

The American had lost the first set to Nadal, but a dramatic change in mindset in the second sparked the belief that Roddick could become a main contender for the major honours in the year ahead. Having played far beyond the baseline in the opener, Roddick sharply reverted to regular forays to the net and reaped immediate rewards, startling Nadal by winning 15 of his 25 approaches.

“Anytime we got neutral [in the point], he was pushing me around,” Roddick had said of his Miami semi-final with the eight-time Grand Slam champ. “I knew I had to be more aggressive.”

That clever tactical change not only edged Roddick to victory, it encouraged the view that he would, could, and (according to some) ‘will’ go on to win another one of the big four this year. His near-routine straight sets victory over big-hitting Czech Tomas Berdych in the final ensured his fifth Masters 1000 title, and fuelled that thought.

Then – hastily skipping through the clay court season – came his much-hyped return to the All England Club. A man who “can catch a chicken” ended Roddick’s latest Wimbledon dream, and one that – at the tenth time of asking – had seemed almost destined to be realised in 2010.

Instead, the 27-year-old’s five-set defeat to Yen-Hsun Lu simply resurfaced doubts that Roddick would ever manage a repeat of his sole Grand Slam triumph. Even before he came desperately close to doing so against Roger Federer at SW19 in 2009, the American himself admitted he might have to accept that a second Grand Slam title was fated to pass him by.

“Even after ’08 Wimbledon I openly talked to Brook and wondered if the best of it was gone,” pondered the 29-time career titlist earlier this year.

Cruelly judged as one dimensional at times, the American has long been a model example of hard-work and fine-tuning; many times he has returned to the drawing board; making adjustments and re-adjustments has simply become a staple of his game.

Take that backhand, for instance, a shot that was once a weakness to the point of becoming a burden.

“My backhand is better. I don’t miss it really,” said the American in explanation of his early season form. “It’s never going to be the shot you say ‘Wow’, but I think I understand it and how I can use it to be effective.”

The question is, can an ‘effective’ backhand be enough to win the year’s sole remaining slam? Only four men other than Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have won one of the big four since Roddick claimed the US Open title in 2003 – Gaston Gaudio, Marat Safin, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro, to be precise. And none of them, it must be said, would count the serve as their greatest weapon.

But it would be remiss to count Roddick out of the running for another title tilt at Flushing Meadows, for the master of re-invention has been on the evolution trail again since Wimbledon.

“I’m hitting the ball a lot differently than I was eight or nine days ago,” he said this week from Washington, where he is contesting his second tournament since his fourth round exit at SW19.

And in the wake of his earlier-than-expected Wimbledon departure, Roddick maintains that his loss to compatriot Mardy Fish in the semi-finals of the Atlanta Tennis Championships at the end of July was near inevitable.

“It was a matter of going out early at Wimbledon then finding the happy balance between training and going into Atlanta a little short on preparation,” he explained.

“I played Atlanta because I wanted to play well here in Washington. I’m glad I went there and took my lumps. It’s a constant give-and-take.”

While he admits that he hasn’t “quite got my feet into summer yet,” Roddick has no doubt that he will be ready for another assault at glory in New York come August 30th.

“Overall I feel great,” he says. “It’s certainly one of the best times of the year for me. I always get excited about it.”

Primed for the ride he may be, but there are only so many times you can get back in the queue for the rollercoaster before it becomes too difficult to make that final leap onto the cart.

For Roddick, you can’t help but feel it’s now or never.

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