I’m not even sure what it means, exactly, to write off Andy Roddick. But I just have a sense that that’s what I’m doing. It’s what I’m feeling.
After his early loss in Miami to some guy named Pablo Cuevas, Roddick, now No. 8, will drop down to, roughly, No. 15 when new rankings come out Monday. He will definitely be out of the top 10.
And I’m not sure he’ll ever get back in.
This whole project with coach Larry Stefanki, one-last run for a second major title, is not going to come through for Roddick. It has peaked. It was thrilling to see the immediate results, a near-Wimbledon title in 2009, when Roddick lost a classic five-set final to Roger Federer. He beat Rafael Nadal on the way to winning in Miami last year, too.
For nearly a decade, Roddick has been the face of American men’s tennis, and a regular in the top 10. But he has driven us crazy, stuck at one major and one moment at No. 1.
The truth is, Roddick let the top of the game pass him by. If the Federer-Nadal argument were real, then Roddick would have been ranked No. 3 all these years. He hasn’t been No. 3 since 2007.
In the past few years, we’ve seen Nadal realize that his game won’t beat Federer on grass. So he changed. He didn’t think he could win the U.S. Open on hard courts, so he changed. He worried that the tall, flat-hitters pouring into the game might push him around, so he changed.
That’s what was so damning about Roddick’s career. He kept doing the same things: Big serve, great fight, no backhand, average movement, no strategy.
That also was the beauty of his re-commitment with Stefanki a little over two years ago. Roddick thought his career was about done, but gave it one more try. He wanted one more major. Together, they made his backhand tolerable, improved his fitness and footwork, developed a strategy.
Give Roddick credit for making the move to make the most of himself. Subtract some of that credit for taking too damn long – because he was too damn hard-headed — to get around to it.
I know, Roddick fell from the top 10 last year, and then got right back in. People have been writing him off for years, too, and then he keeps getting back into the top 10. He usually throws in a good run at a major.
Am I really saying he can’t creep back to No. 10 and reach the semis of Wimbledon? It’s possible, I guess.
What I’m saying is this: That is his absolute ceiling now.
Maybe it already was. But after the changes, the ceiling seemed much higher. Since that Nadal victory in Miami last year, exactly a year ago, Roddick hasn’t been able to take the next step. That could have been because of injury, sickness, more hard-headedness or maxing out. Whatever the reason, he has stepped back down the ladder.
He doesn’t contend at majors, losing to people who will never be champions. In his past four majors, he hasn’t reached the quarterfinals, and has lost to this list:
Stanislas Wawrinka, Janko Tipsarevic, Yen-Hsun Lu and Teymuraz Gabashvili.
I’ve been blaming his oopy forehand, something Tipsarevic talked about after beating Roddick last year at the U.S. Open. He said Roddick’s forehand used to be a feared weapon. Not any more.
Stefanki coached Roddick brilliantly for a while, toning him down some. Now, he has coached Roddick to death.
But it’s more than a forehand. It’s something in Roddick’s head. Also, his game isn’t varied enough. So he can’t consistently beat everyone below the top tier when he’s having an off day or when his serve is returned.
It’s too early to say goodbye to Roddick. His serve can still take him places. Maybe instead of living in the bottom half of the top 10, he will stick between 10 and 20 for a while.
He has been fighting off injuries and some sort of bronchial issues for the past couple of years, too. At 28, these things start happening to tennis players.
Roddick has been getting all the blame for the failures of U.S. tennis because he is the failed American hope at majors. Of course, he has been the only one good enough to hope, too.
Mardy Fish will pass him in the rankings Monday to become No. 1 in the U.S. But Roddick, with his star persona and presence, will remain the face of American tennis for a while.
Maybe for a long while, if he’s willing. It always seems as if he’s having fun, something about playing tennis for a living, making millions and having a swimsuit model for a wife, I guess.
Maybe he just likes the life. That’s understandable. Maybe he’s holding hope for one last miracle run, say at Wimbledon. He did beat the future, Milos Raonic, to win in Memphis this year.
At least Roddick is playing at his ceiling now. But the ceiling is getting lower.