Andy Roddick’s Career Shows Signs of Life at This Year’s US Open

I was wrong!

Like many writers and armchair tennis players, I had written off Andy Roddick as a contender for this year’s US Open. In fact, I was certain he would not make it past the second or third round. But there he was in the round of 16, playing (and winning) against David Ferrer of Spain. It would seem that the rumors of Andy’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Andy handily defeated David today in their delayed round of 16 match at the US Open. He won in 4 surprising sets, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in just over 2 hours. Why “surprising”? Because Ferrer is normally the kind of guy who makes his opponents play their best tennis (if they want to beat him), running every ball down and sending it back… maybe even with interest. In today’s match, there were no signs of “that” David Ferrer. Dare I say it; the real David Ferrer, until he finally showed signs of life in the 3rd set.

That was fortunate for Andy, and unfortunate for David. On a given day when the real David is present, he wins the battle of the baseline with Andy. He is quicker than Andy, can run all day, and can hit just as big when needed. The longer the rally goes on, Andy is generally at a disadvantage with the top guys. Not today though. Ferrer made an unusual amount of errors: 34 unforced errors in total, 10 more than the average of his first 3 matches. He was not sharp, maybe even potentially injured, and Andy took full advantage.

Andy pretty much controlled the match from start to finish. This includes his minor dressing-down of Brian Early after being forced to wait out an attempt at drying water behind one of the baselines that was seeping up from under the court surface. They were brought out to resume play only to see the water still coming through the surface.

Andy was about as annoyed and pissy as we have seen him, demanding to be put on any open court so they could finally play. And play he did when they got to their new assignment on Court 13, taking control of the match as soon as play resumed. He had a bit of a lapse to lose the third set, but re-established his control in the fourth set even after initially falling behind a break. It was a good win for Andy. His ear-to-ear smile afterward said it best.

Andy Roddick, I’d take my hat off to you if I wore hats. You came into this year’s US Open woefully under-prepared and have slowly played your way into mental and physical shape. Sure, you have been a bit more edgy and prickly than normal. But you’ve kept your head when it mattered most, and taken care of business; playing a bit better each round as you find your serve, depth, and pace. Today was your best match, regardless of David’s diminished level. Congratulations.

So often these days we overlook Andy Roddick as a contender for titles because, let’s face it, they have been few and far between. It’s true that he has won at least one title a year for 11 years, but that isn’t what puts you into contention with the likes of Novak, Rafa, and Roger. On any given day we know that almost anything can happen, but the numbers don’t work out favorably for Andy in his match-ups with the top guys. Roger overwhelmingly has his number (20-2), Rafa has his number (6-3), and the other Andy (Murray) has his number (7-3). The only guy who doesn’t have his number is Novak Djokovic. Andy leads their head-to-head 5-3. But given the way Novak is playing this year, he would be the prohibitive favorite in any match with Roddick.

That Andy is overlooked is a basic function of the losses he has amassed against these guys. There is also the fact that since 2006, there has only been one Grand Slam winner (Juan Martin del Potro) not named Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic. His lone Grand Slam win came at the 2003 US Open, eight years and almost a lifetime away by tennis standards. He has come close to adding to that Slam total only to lose to Roger: at ’04-’05-’09 Wimbledon, and at the ’06 US Open. That 2009 Wimbledon endeared Andy to a few more fans, but the hard reality is that he still came out on the losing end.

Andy is very aware that his epithet has been written over and over again. With each injury and each loss to the newest up-and-comer, the questions become relentless for him. I think the one thing that has burned his britches most of all is that many of the questions he gets in his pressers are about the other (top) guys. The questions only tend to be about him when there’s the inevitable temper tantrum over a bad call, a foot fault call, or if he’s just playing poorly and needs to vent and fire himself up. Then he gets the questions…still only about his behavior, not his tennis.

Andy has a chance to do something about that recent history at this US Open. His win over Ferrer was a great win…a great first step. Now comes the hard part: he must beat the defending champion Rafael Nadal in their upcoming quarterfinal match. If he’s going to beat Rafa, this is his best surface and best opportunity to do so. On clay or grass, Rafa can manhandle Andy with his power and topspin. On a hardcourt, Andy can use his serve more effectively to set up points in his favor. He can also hit through the court more effectively with the power he still possesses.

His last win over Rafa came in 2010 at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami. I was fortunate enough to be in attendance at that match. It was a semi-final that nobody expected Andy to win. Rafa was slumping a bit, but had seemed to rediscover his form heading into the clay court season. Andy had nothing to lose, and he also knew he had to do something different if he wanted a different result What did he change? After comprehensively losing the first set, he started to hit big, REALLY BIG; taking huge cuts at each forehand opportunity. Those huge shots were landing in, and Rafa was caught off-guard by the change in tactic. Andy won the title with a well-earned 3 set victory. So it is possible.

Even if he loses Friday’s match against Nadal, he has still surpassed most of our expectations for the level of tennis we think he is capable of producing in his waning (tennis) years. No one expected Andy to go this far at the Open. We mostly expected Mardy Fish, the new American #1, to be in the quarterfinals. Heck, we had expectations for John Isner to make it to potentially make it to the quarterfinals instead of Andy. In the end, there he is.

Andy got bounced in the second round of the Open last year, so all of his results after the second round are a net gain on his ATP ranking points. Depending on his results at the Open and any other tournaments afterward, he could still qualify for the year-end championships in London. It seemed like a distant thought after his disappointing summer, but you never know. If he does there is a chance that we could have two Americans present for the first time in years.

I hope he at least considers revising his fall schedule to make a run for it. That would be a great thing to see both he and Mardy among the top 8 ATP players of the year. If he doesn’t, he has still redeemed his year and rejuvenated our view of his career. Andy is not done. He’s not even on life support yet.

Today in New York, Andy reminded all of us, including himself, that he can still play ball with the best.

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