US OPEN WIN WAS MORE THAN TWO YEARS AGO
Who misses the old Andy Roddick?
Image change, better backhand needed
By Tom A. McFerson, Special to TennisReporters.net
When Andy Roddick first arrived on the scene, he was everything America wanted in a burgeoning sports hero. He was likeable. Charismatic. Yeah, he had some swagger, but he also had the talent to back it up.
Roddick was quickly anointed the successor to Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. A buzz began to build around the teenager. There was little doubt that this kid not only had the weapons to conquer the men's game, he had the arrogance to actually try it.
Now, five years later, Andy Roddick seems … different. The likeable smile rarely makes an appearance; the swagger has taken a beating; the high-powered game has been curiously toned down.
Sure, it's easy to understand the crankiness. His current place in the men's game wasn't part of the overall plan. Winning the '03 US Open was supposed to open the flood gates. But, as professional athletes continue to discover, sports has a way of changing the best laid plans. Throw in a few shaky losses, a questionable coaching change, the emergence of a guy named Roger, and suddenly Roddick finds himself in danger of sliding back down the mountain.
It must be a bit uncomfortable for Roddick right now: two-and-a-half years removed from his first and only Grand Slam; a bumpy 2005, with some good wins but some terrible losses; and the thought of beginning 2006 with little momentum and even less confidence.
And so it raises the question: Is Roddick headed in the right direction?
One of the most appealing things about Roddick when he burst upon the tennis scene was that he didn't seem like just a tennis player. He was more. He seemed like a pro athlete.
Roddick was brought up on team sports (football and baseball), and that permeated his persona. Unlike many players on the tour, you had no trouble imagining Roddick standing on the sidelines of a football field or sitting in a baseball dugout.
And it makes one wonder, could part of the problem be that Roddick has moved away from what got him to the top to begin with?
DOESN'T NEED AN ALL-COURT GAME
The drumbeat for Roddick to develop his "all-court" game began with the emergence of Roger Federer. Conventional wisdom says that the only way Roddick will ever beat Federer is by attacking the net. There are two reasons why this is untrue: One, Roddick has had the most success against Federer (the '04 Wimbledon final, for example) when he's used his serve and forehand to over-power the Swiss player. And, two, when you look at the players who have beaten Federer in 2005 (a small number, granted), not one is following the "all-court" formula.
In fact, when you look at the men in 2005 that either beat or bothered Federer in matches off clay (Marat Safin, David Nalbandian, Ivan Ljubicic), not one is consistently attacking the net.
The common element among all these players – the element that neither Roddick nor his coach, Dean Goldfine, seem to want to face – is that all have tough, aggressive backhands. These men can all return consistently from the backhand side, and they can all hurt opponents during rallies from the backhand side. Roddick can't do either.
Recent Roddick matches with Federer have played out in similar ways, and it always boils down to Roddick's weak backhand. It's not that he has consistent trouble holding his own serve, it's that Roddick rarely threatens to break Federer's serve. Improving his volley isn't going to change that.
And it's not just against Federer. Lleyton Hewitt at the Australian Open, Ljubicic in Davis Cup, Ivo Karlovic in Madrid … those matches weren't lost because Roddick's staying behind the baseline, as his camp would have you believe. Those matches were lost because his backhand crumbled under pressure.
At the US Open last August, Gilles Muller mercilessly went to Roddick's backhand on almost every point. It was difficult to watch, like a car accident, and by the end of the match, Roddick's backhand was a shaky mess.
The "get to the net" concept is a red herring. It's a dead-end street for Roddick. The real hole in his game, the one that's common knowledge in the locker room, is the backhand. That's what needs to be focused on.
Roddick is at a crucial time in his tennis career. His decisions need to have an immediate impact. Improving his volley might make a marginal difference. Improving the backhand – making it a dependable, aggressive, confident stroke – will give him the dramatic impact he desperately needs.
Image can make differencE
Another area of concern for Roddick should be his image. Two developments in 2005 spoke volumes.
Pro athletes, especially those that play in the NBA, MLB or NFL, must live on the edge to survive. Their appearance, and by association their attitude, must intimidate.
Last summer, after getting dumped by Nike, Robby Ginepri began endorsing Under Armour, a company mainly known for its football and basketball endorsees and sportswear. And whether by choice or by default, it was the perfect sponsor for a guy like Ginepri.
Taking the court wearing his new gear for the first time, the transformation of Ginepri was immediately apparent. He seemed stronger. Tougher. Ginepri looked, and maybe more importantly, felt like a professional athlete. Whatever vibe Ginepri conveyed to his opponents, real or imagined, it helped propel him to his best summer on the tour.
Roddick faced a similar choice prior to 2005. He chose to go with Lacoste. Nice looking. Comfortable, to be sure. But tough? Intimidating? Not quite.
Obviously, with both players, there were financial considerations associated with these choices. But, bottom line, what you wear speaks to who you are. There is no doubt that Ginepri became a notch more intimidating wearing the Under Armour gear. There is also no doubt that Roddick became a notch less intimidating when he took the court wearing that dark green Lacoste shirt.
For Roddick, it boils down to who he is and who he wants to be associated with. Ginepri made his choice. What about Roddick? The NFL? Major League Baseball? Or BNP Paribus? Lavar Arrington? Barry Zito? Or Guy Forget?
The second development was at the US Open. Enough has been written about the ill-conceived "mojo" campaign by American Express. What hasn't been said is, even if Roddick had made a nice run in New York and the campaign hadn't evolved into a joke, the commercials still would have been a head-scratcher. In the commercial, Roddick awkwardly clubs forehands and backhands into the bottom of the net. He comes across as uncoordinated and un-athletic.
Can you remember a commercial where Kobe Bryant or LeBron James foolishly brick jump shots or back-rim slam dunks, the equivalent of this commercial? Can you recall an ad where Derek Jeter or Albert Pujols clumsily swing and whiff at the plate? Can you think of any advertisement where the athlete was made to look so bad in the sport that's their profession?
Many would shrug off the "mojo" campaign as just a poor decision, and that's probably all it was. But it's also a symptom of a bigger problem. An image problem.
Roddick, unknowingly or purposely, is moving away from what took him to the top of pro tennis.
And an over-powering game.
Those are the three pillars to Roddick's success. And until he focuses more on that, the American is going to find more and more players between him and the top.
© TennisReporters.net 2006
記事リンク：Who misses the old Andy Roddick?