For Andy Roddick, who has shouldered the burden of being for a long time not only the top American male player but also, for lack of a better phrase, “American Men’s Tennis”, 2010 has been something of a turning point, for better and worse. Despite having a decent run this spring getting to the finals of Indian Wells and winning Miami, beating Rafael Nadal in the process, many thought Roddick had an excellent chance to succeed later in the summer in the Grand Slams. But instead of continuing with his aggressive play that saw him use his once feared forehand more often as if by instinct, Roddick has lately reverted back to a more passive backcourt style that many, including his former Davis Cup coach Patrick McEnroe, have viewed as a step backwards.
Roddick, who lost in a second round tussle at the U.S. Open against Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic, used a dispute with a lineswoman over a foot fault call to fire himself up and the always rowdy New York crowd to stage a mini-comeback of sorts before Tipsarevic outplayed him in the fourth set tiebreak to win 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (4). Roddick, who is still dealing with the lingering effects of mono, could certainly use a long break from the game to get 100% healthy again. But if Roddick has any chance of winning another Grand Slam, his tactics will have to change. But the question is, can he do that or is it too late?
Despite reaching the semifinals of Cincinnati a few weeks ago, Roddick came into the U.S. Open with a lot of question marks, and not just about his physical health. Although Tipsarevic played a smart match and didn’t let Roddick’s nearly 20 minute feud with court officials over a foot fault call distract him from serving out the third set, it was Roddick’s passive play before that moment that was the real factor in the outcome of the match. Ever since Miami where Roddick showed off a “go for broke” style especially on his forehand that reminded people of his younger days when he won the U.S. Open in 2003, the American has played many matches since Miami from well behind the baseline, merely content to engage in long rallies and almost hoping the other guy will miss. Nadal can certainly grind down players into dust, but Nadal also finds ways to open up the court to go for a winning shot.
Perhaps this passive style wasn’t the desired game plan at all but more a response by Roddick in dealing with his physical condition over the last few months. In his press conference afterwards, Roddick confirmed he contracted mono in May just before the Madrid tournament and not after Wimbledon which was the initial consensus. It would certainly make more sense that Roddick was dealing with the lingering virus for a long time as many thought Roddick looked thinner than usual when he showed up at the last minute to play in Atlanta at the start of the U.S. Open series. Roddick summed up his year by saying, “It’s been a short year as far as all things being perfect at one time.” Even though it’s unfortunate that Roddick had to deal with such an unlucky blow this year, the question is can he bounce back as Roger Federer and John Isner did after their own bouts with the virus?
Despite his recent health scare, the real issue for Roddick is how much longer can he rely on his serve being his only weapon? Tipsarevic, who always gives candid press conferences, correctly pointed out that for Roddick to compete at the highest levels, Roddick needs to look back to his younger days for inspiration. “He needs to be more aggressive,” said Tipsarevic. “But, yes, I think he can. He needs to change his game style a little bit, in my opinion, going for a little bit more, especially from his forehand. If he recuperates and starts being a little more aggressive — I’m not here to give tips, but definitely he needs to change something to win a Grand Slam.”
If Tipsarevic and the other players know this, why doesn’t Roddick? Larry Stefanki, Roddick’s coach, has been given a lot of credit for keeping Roddick’s name in the “conversation” this year. What he and Roddick do now will be critical for keeping alive any chance Roddick has for one more Grand Slam run. Another Andy, Andy Murray, has heard himself he needs to play more aggressive tennis to win his first Grand Slam, something he still may do this year in New York. To now hear calls for Roddick to do the same seems odd at first, but it may be the only solution if he wants another chance at Grand Slam glory.