Victorious Roddick recovering from the pressure of '04
Goldfine: 'None of these other young guys have even made it to the quarters of a Slam. So we're looking at it coming down to Andy and Andre if he's healthy'
By Matthew Cronin, TennisReporters.net
FROM THE SAP OPEN IN SAN JOSE – Andy Roddick has a tough exterior that would make Pete Sampras and Jim Courier proud. But last year, the pressure of being America's No. 1 became a little too much for him to carry, which partly explains his six month title-less drought. Moreover, the intense spotlight that he was put under also took away some of his joy for the game, which may have adversely affected his play.
Now the tide has at least briefly turned for Roddick, who won his first title since last July on Sunday, crushing France's Cyril Saulnier 6-0, 6-4 in the final of the SAP Open The victory will at least temporarily silence those who believe he is about to skid out the Top 5 and who were rattled by his four-set loss to Lleyton Hewitt in the Aussie Open semis.
"There was perception I was totally off track," Roddick said. "I didn't feel that way. I guess I was one of the few. But it's a great stepping stone. I lose here and I'd have to answer a lot of nonsense. It's a great springboard."
After he lost two matches in the Davis Cup final against Spain, Roddick canned his coach, Brad Gilbert, and hired the more easy-going Dean Goldfine to tutor him. Roddick is now 10-1 under Goldfine, but that loss was the one everyone one points to, where Roddick played two lousy tiebreaks against Hewitt Down Under. It reminded folks of the three tiebreaks Roddick lost in the Davis Cup final, where at times, he looked lost. Goldfine aims to change his mental approach to those situations.
"Sometimes he's playing in heavy conditions like Seville or someone gets a lot of balls back like Lleyton, and Andy tries to hit his way out of the situation, instead of learning to construct points and work himself out the situation," Goldfine told TennisReporters.net. "Because of his serve he can do it sometimes, but the serve isn't going to be there every time and it puts lot of pressure to come up with serves every time. To realistically do it for three out of five sets is tough. I'm trying to teach him to use the serve more as a starting point to where he can control the point and get the upper hand. The aces are still going to come."
Dean Goldfine and Roddick both like what their relationship has wrought in the improvement department. Goldfine wants Roddick to ease up on himself, which he believes will lead to good things in the intense powerballer's future. What he doesn't want to see is a repeat of second half-last year, when Roddick was unhappy with his place in the game.
"Maybe Andy was putting too much pressure on himself and the media was putting too much pressure on him – being labeled the future of American tennis, or now he is American tennis,'" Goldfine told TR.net. "That's a lot of pressure. He's only 22. You compare him to a lot of guys at 22 and he's accomplished a lot. There's still room for improvement. The media expects a little too much for him to win all the time. The year Roger Federer had last year was unbelievable and you can put that up against a year anyone else has ever had. Roger is one of those guys who could end up being one of the best to ever play. To finish second to him and accomplish what Andy did was okay. It was disappointing not to win a Slam and lose in the Davis Cup final, but he got to the quarters of the Aussie Open, the final of Wimbledon, quarters of the US Open and Davis Cup final -– that's pretty impressive."
AMERICANS REMEMBER THE GLORY DECADE
The fact is, Roddick hails from a nation that is coming off the greatest generation in history – a bar that was set by Sampras, Andre Agassi, Courier and Michael Chang, who combined for 27 Grand Slam titles and at least two of whom where in the elite mix for 13 years running. The bar is set very high, but that it where it was set by Roddick's immediate fore bearers. Until it drips a few notches lower, a Slam-less year and a six-month title drought won't be looked at through rose-colored glasses, especially when it concerns a guy who already has a Slam title in his pocket and finished 2003 at No. 1.
"The thing you have to remember is that those guys all came around at the same time and it made it a little easier because the focus wasn't just on one of those guys," Goldfine said. "If one didn't do that well, one of the others would, and then there was Todd Martin as well who could sneak in. They all had each backing each other up. None of these other young guys have even made it to the quarters of a Grand Slam. So we're looking at it coming down to Andy and Andre if he's healthy, it's a lot of pressure."
Roddick said that he doesn't view Agassi having come back to the Davis Cup team as an immediate relief to the pressure that was put on him last year to be the man at every tie, but the fact is, in singles, he was that guy, (The Bryans were nails in doubles.)
"Andy doesn't think of it that he can lose a match, but I do think he thinks of it as at least 'I don't have to win every match,' " said Goldfine, who assisted US captain Patrick McEnroe in Seville. " 'At least Andre is someone I have confidence in.' " I'm sure he has confidence in Mardy, but not the same confidence that he has in Andre. It does help him breath a little easier, that if he has a little hiccup there is someone else there to pick up the slack. He had to be feeling some pressure."
Goldfine said that Roddick hasn't confided his reason why he parted with Gilbert, and the two have been focusing on improving Roddick fitness and multiple facets of his game. Roddick's transition game is being addressed, as his being more aggressive with his return, the types of volleys he hits, his court coverage and his confidence in his backhand down the line. Goldfine believes that if Roddick focuses on the process, the results will come. Plus, he needs to be having fun.
"He wanted to get back to basics in terms of working hard," Goldfine said. "Last year during the second half, he didn't look like he was enjoying himself on court. I told he had to realize that it's his job and he's needs to put in the work just like everyone else, but he's in the fortunate position of playing tennis for a living and should be enjoying it. He likes to get out there and work his butt off, but he needs to feel good about it."
SKIES CAN OPEN UP ON ANDY
Roddick is pretty positive person for the most part and rarely walks around with dark clouds hanging over his head. When he does, it's a thunderstorm, which breaks quickly, crashes down loudly and dissipates like a cracked frame after a lousy overhead.
"Just like anyone, there are days when your feeling it and you feel great, and then are days that I'm grinding through it and I don't have my best stuff," Roddick said. "I play better when I'm having fun, but I think anyone would. When you find a way to win and your not playing your best, in some weird way it's more satisfying. I enjoy the process of working through it."
After he squeaked past the tough Thomas Enqvist in three sets in the San Jose quarters, Roddick put his anger and frustration aside and began to put all the elements of his game together against Tommy Haas in the semis and then Saulnier in the final. He did have success stepping in on his returns and volleyed quite well in the final, converting 10 of 13 net approaches. He's a work in progress, but he's not stuck in place.
"I'm going to be a lot more comfortable if I force myself to stand in on my returns," Roddick said. "Even if I don't hit it that well, it's bound to go deeper. There are going to times when I go back further again, but I'll continue to move up until I don't feel comfortable. … My transition game was one of the best I've had. … It comes and goes on the first volleys. It went against Lleyton when I was horrible. It's something I'm doing more consciously and can only improve in long run."
Roddick is quite close to regaining the No. 2 ranking from Hewitt. But the only way he's going to stay neck-and-neck with Hewitt and hope to have a prayer of catching No. 1 Federer this year is to make a huge impression during the US winter-spring indoor/outdoor hard season. That means going very deep in the upcoming tournaments in Memphis, Indian Wells and Miami.
"That's the goal every time is to go deep," said Roddick, who will play Memphis this week. "I have a pretty decent track record on the home turf and probably need that momentum going into the clay court season."