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Monday, April 14, 2008
Good to be Andy

All in all, it's a good time to be Andy Roddick. Despite a rough start at the Australian Open (where Roddick lost to Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round), he's caught fire. In the past two months, he's won two tournments, beaten each of the elite top three (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic), and most recently, led the U.S. squad to a Davis Cup quarterfinal win over always tricky France.

Who could have guessed that firing his coach -- American tennis icon Jimmy Connors -- could reap such lavish rewards? OK, that's not really accurate; the reality is that Connors is more responsible than anyone (except, perhaps, swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker) for getting Roddick back on the rails.

I'm not kidding about Decker, either. When you're head over heels and just got engaged, you've got more than ample reason to leap out of bed and hit the practice courts every morning. Tennis players, like the rest of us, perform best when we're feeling best about ourselves and the immediate future. Is there a better tonic than Big Love?

Roddick is in an interesting position. He's had a tough time keeping pace with Federer (he's 2-15 against him), but would you believe that he has a positive, cumulative head-to-head against the men ranked above him? Andy is 2-2 with Nadal and 1-1 with Djokovic. He's also 5-1 versus Nikolay Davydenko. Except Federer, the only guy currently ranked above Roddick with a winning H2H against him is No-Slam Wonder David Ferrer (3-2). The bottom line is that Roddick's reputation has taken a big, big hit because of that woeful head-to-head with Federer. He's simply a better player than many fans and pundits realize.

This is interesting thing to contemplate now that a few clouds have gathered in Federer's heretofore blue skies. Let's remember that Federer denied Roddick two consecutive Wimbledon titles (2004 and 2005) as well as a final-round appearance in 2003. Roddick has played Ken Rosewall to Federer's Rod Laver. If you prefer a more up-to-date analogy, he's played Jim Courier to Federer's Pete Sampras. With Federer out of Roddick's way, anything would be possible, including a Wimbledon-U.S. Open double. But I get the feeling that because of Roddick's meat-and-potatoes power game, a lot of people don't like hearing that.

Roddick doesn't need me to defend him, either. His record does the job pretty well and nowhere better than in the annals of Davis Cup. While Federer and Nadal have been ambivalent Davis Cuppers, Roddick has emerged as a stalwart right out of the Lleyton Hewitt-John McEnroe-Andre Agassi mold. Check out some of the numbers in the wake of his two singles wins this past weekend.

Roddick now owns a 10-0 singles record when he's in a position to clinch a tie. That's four more clinching wins that McEnroe had, and six more than Arthur Ashe managed. Agassi was 4-1. A wag might say thank God the Swiss don't do Davis Cup, but that's their problem, not ours. You can only beat who you play.

In addition, Roddick has already surpassed Agassi and is rapidly closing on McEnroe in singles matches played (he's played 38, 11 shy of McEnroe's American best of 49) He needs just one more singles win to tie Agassi for second place with 30 (McEnroe has 41). It seems pretty clear that Roddick could overshadow McEnroe as a singles performer in every category but Cups won.

But that's a story for another time. Today, let's just toast Andy Roddick.