From my column on AOL Fanhouse
MELBOURNE, Australia — Andy Roddick has been coached to death. He is a wild animal who, trying to get a little control of himself, has allowed himself to be trained into a house pet. Sit Andy, sit.
Roddick’s career doesn’t have to be over. All of his skills are still there, and he has even added some. But he doesn’t contend in the majors anymore, and doesn’t even reach the quarterfinals.
“Conditions were colder, so slice wasn’t really working,” he said Sunday after losing to Stanislas Wawrinka 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in the fourth round of the Australian Open. “I wasn’t able to get the ball to jump much, so a lot of the shots he hit were in his pocket and…”
Oh my God. If this is the new and improved Andy Roddick, then I liked him better the old way, when he was the dumbest tennis player on earth. The guy has a 140 mph serve and he’s talking about cold weather and slice?
Well, Roddick is out, as is every American player, man or woman. Or in Roddick’s case, puppy.
This is all wrong. Roddick isn’t just losing every important match. Roddick has lost Roddick.
At one point, he had a presence. He fought to the death, had a loud persona on court, crushed the ball. He was your All-American tennis player, with passion overwhelming thoughts.
Now, he powderpuffs his forehand, keeps his backhand in play, waits for his opponent to miss.
In tennis terms, he is a dinker.
It doesn’t work. He bashes his massive serve, and if it’s an ace, then great, point over. That’s what people see of him. But when his serve is returned, it usually is floated back short and soft, setting Roddick up to bash a forehand and bully his opponent.
Instead, he steps and loops a soft, spinny forehand, immediately handing back control of a point.
Wawrinka played him the way any good player will. He moved in on the return to cut off angles on Roddick’s serve. Then, he just bunted back his return. There was no pressure on him to do more.
I was one of the early ones to complain about Roddick’s dumb tennis. First time I saw him in person, he lost to Pete Sampras in the U.S. Open. It was supposed to be a torch-passing from old guy to young.
Then Sampras rolled Roddick, who stayed 15 feet behind the baseline and never… changed… one… thing while he got crushed.
Eventually, the cries came from everywhere for him to actually develop a game plan, not to mention a backhand. He has gone through years of different coaches, and non-coaches and stubbornness. He finally landed on Larry Stefanki, who helped to reinvent a thinner, fitter Roddick with good footwork, a decent backhand and an ability to mix things up some.
Roddick nearly beat Roger Federer in a classic Wimbledon final. Remember? He has reached just one quarterfinal in a major since then.
Let me start a new cry. Stop thinking, Andy. Swing as hard as you can on your forehand.
And stop taking that big, looping, flipping backswing to get spin. Pull the racquet back, then drive through the ball, the way you did when you beat Rafael Nadal in Miami last year.
Since then, Roddick went into a match at the French Open totally defeated, assuming he was going to lose. At Wimbledon, he couldn’t put away a nobody in the fifth set. At the U.S. Open, he lost to Janko Tipsarevic, berating and bullying a line judge for correctly calling a footfault on him, but accidentally identifying the wrong foot.
Tipsarevic noted that Roddick’s forehand used to scare people.
What sort of fear did Wawrinka have about that forehand? Before the match, he was practicing with his left hand. Was it some sort of defensive posture?
“I’m practicing a little bit because I make a bet with a friend in the summer,” Wawrinka said. “I need to play a match against him with my left hand, so that’s why I’m practicing every day.”
Roll over, Andy. Roll over.
The debate about Roddick has still not been decided. Has he overachieved, spending a decade in the top 10 without a ton of talent? Or is he an underachiever, winning a major and then climbing to No. 1, briefly, when he was young then never winning another major again?
I go with the second one. He never built on his talent, as the top tier of talent, Roger Federer and Nadal established a higher level of Tier 1.
Now, Roddick is not a threat in majors to Tier 1, and not even to the top challengers, Tier 2.
Roddick is 28, ranked No. 8, and in Tier 3 and falling. And he’s worried about his inability to hit his slice.
He has taken the blame for all that is wrong with American tennis. That’s because he hasn’t lived up to Sampras and Andre Agassi. Give him this, though: He’s the only American man good enough to get himself into position to be criticized.
Honestly, I don’t know if he has the fortitude to win another major no matter what he does. But I’m positive he can’t out-think Federer and can’t out-rally Nadal.
Either Stefanki has taken this project way too far or Roddick is ignoring him. We can’t know for sure.
But here’s to hoping that he doesn’t just let his career wind down this way. Next time someone tells him to sit, he should show his teeth again and bite someone’s hand off. If that doesn’t work, well, at least he takes some flesh with him.