Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Roddick revs for title drive

'Sophomore slump' rooted in perception, not reality

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Andy Roddick
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        MASON - Andy Roddick won a car at a Houston tournament in April - significant because he didn't own a car and that this was a Lexus SC430, a convertible sports coupe. Yet he became frustrated when learning he should break in the engine.

        “I couldn't drive it over 50 (mph) for 500 miles,” Roddick said. “I'm home three days at a time. You know how long it took me to get 500 miles?”

        Liken that to Roddick's plan to take over the tennis world: Hurry up and wait.

        Hailed as the savior of American tennis, the 19-year-old has rocketed up the rankings, and this week, he became the first American teen to crack the top 10 in 11 years. Yet the ninth-ranked Roddick has a hard time laying off the gas, so eager is he to claim his first major title and ascend his sport's throne.

        “I was just getting too far ahead of myself,” he said. “I was forcing the issue a little bit. I was unhappy on the court, not playing well, getting frustrated too easily.”

        After the surprise and excitement of his 2001 season, in which he won three titles, Roddick knows there are whispers he has endured a mild sophomore slump.

        It's absurd. His 6-3, 6-3 victory here Tuesday over Michel Kratochvil was his 45th of the year, most on the ATP Tour this year and three more than he totaled last year. Roddick has five career titles, as many as Pete Sampras had as a teen-ager.

        The big-tourney jinx would be the only criticism. Until he finished runner-up last week in Toronto, Roddick hadn't reached the final of a Tennis Masters event, and he has one Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance, the 2001 U.S. Open.

        “Considering I got into my first major last year, it's pretty tough (hearing criticism),” Roddick said. ”Maybe the question would be: "Why hasn't he performed well this year in Slams?' That would be a fair question. Maybe two or three years, four years down the line, (if) I'm now 22, 23 and I haven't broken through, that would be a better question.”

        This year, Roddick retired in a second-round Australian Open match against Ivan Ljubicic with an ankle injury; lost a five-setter in a first-round French Open match to inconsistent-but-talented Wayne Arthurs; and was hammered 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 by grass-court expert Greg Rusedski in the third round at Wimbledon.

        Suddenly, folks were asking if Roddick should fire his coach, Tarik Benhabiles.

        “That wasn't a loss I took easily: I got schooled on Centre Court at Wimbledon,” Roddick said. “You hear people talk. It was tough.”

        Roddick went to San Antonio to visit his brother, John, who runs a tennis academy. Andy saw how the kids appeared so carefree, and “something clicked.”

        “I was like, "This summer, I'm going to have fun, be relaxed, and try to play with my instincts' - go back to basics, basically,” Roddick said.

        So far, so good: He's 9-2 since Wimbledon.

        Roddick said he's going to try to keep things simple, emphasizing what has gotten him this far. He bought a house in an understated, gated community in Boca Raton, Fla. He has grown an inch and put on 10 pounds (now 6feet2, 185), which has helped back up his power game.

        There will be distractions. US Weekly magazine anointed Roddick the Tour's next sex symbol. Sponsors are lining up, and he's marketing his own Reebok shoe. Interview demands have escalated.

        “It's been a big change over the last year,” Roddick said. “Luckily enough, I had great people around me (for help). 1/2hellip 3/4

        “On the court, I'm not going to put pressure on myself. I am confident that if I put in the work and go day by day, the results will come.”


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