Andy Roddick was always a crowd-puller; his style of play, on-court sense of humour and the occasional histrionics endeared him to tennis fans all over the world. He was also tipped to be Roger Federer's greatest rival - much like Andre Agassi was to Pete Sampras in the 1990s.
Their fellow American, however, did not live up to that billing since lifting the US Open title in 2003, barring a few bursts that saw him enter - and lose - four grand slam finals over the next six years. But we saw a new and improved Roddick this past year during which time he impressed at the Australian Open - where he made it to the last four - before battling valiantly in that long, long final at Wimbledon against the Swiss maestro Federer.
He had a minor hiccup, being forced to withdraw from a US Davis Cup quarter-final tie in Croatia with a right hip flexor. But the 26-year-old Texan said yesterday he was mentally and physically rejuvenated, and ready to prepare hard for the season's last grand slam - the US Open. "It does help my confidence going into the US Open the fact that I was recently able to navigate my way through a major tournament," Roddick said at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic where he is the top seed.
But the experience of having had the odd bursts of form before dwindling away has taught him to be a little more circumspect than he should have been in the past. "Those results [in 2009] can only help on a short-term basis, going into the US Open. But nothing's guaranteed. You have to be in form," he said yesterday. Three-times winner of the DC hardcourt event, Roddick was all set to play either fellow American Robby Ginepri or Benjamin Becker of Germany in his first match today.
"I'm not expecting to pick up where I left off," he said. "I'd love to get off to a great start. But it would be presumptuous of me to expect that in my first match." Getting back to talking about his purple patch, Roddick chose to remind everyone that his 2009 season was not defined by the Wimbledon final. "I'm having difficulty separating Wimbledon from the rest of the year," said the world No 5. "Everyone's focusing on that but I feel like I've been doing a lot of the things I applied at Wimbledon from January forward."
He said coach Larry Stefanki, hired late last year, had helped him in several areas, including fitness, nutrition, and his mental approach to the game. "Toward the last six months of last year I felt I was going the wrong way. I dealt with some injuries. Then you start dealing with self-belief. Then you come back and take it on the chin a couple of times," he said. "Now I don't get too up or too down. I'm just going to keep an even keel."
Whether he is finally able to sustain his form, only time will tell. firstname.lastname@example.org