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Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Roddick's still a grinder


When the ATP hands out its player awards in March, at the Ericsson Open in Miami, for accomplishments during the 2008 season, one player probably will be left out of the mix. He won't fall under the category of best player (Rafael Nadal has that accolade all but wrapped up) or most improved player (Juan Martin del Potro will probably get the nod). He won't be eligible for the newcomer of the year award, either, since he's been blasting serves for eight years. But surely the ATP can throw some love Andy Roddick's way.

Roddick is one of the most consistent, and consistently overlooked, top performers on the men's tour. If you crunch the numbers, he's on the cusp of making the season-ending Masters Cup in Shanghai in November. All he has to do is win a title between now and then, such as the Madrid Masters this week, and Roddick's in; if he reaches the final of an event, he'll have a strong shot at making the cut, though he'd have to see how the rest of the players behind him perform.

At stake: Roddick is trying to qualify for the year-end championships, the tour's biggest event outside of the Grand Slams, for a sixth straight year. The only other active player to achieve that feat is Roger Federer, who has already qualified for his seventh straight trip.

How does Roddick do it year in, year out? It's not like he's lighting up the majors. In the past four years, he reached two Wimbledon finals and a U.S. Open final. The rest of his Slam results are a mixed bag of early-round flameouts and respectable quarterfinal and semifinal showings.

But while Roddick's results at the Slams resemble the Dow Jones, he's been remarkably steady overall. This season, as of Oct. 15, Roddick has a .760 winning percentage. For his career, Roddick's winning percentage is also .760. For comparison's sake, Federer is currently enjoying a .810 career winning percentage.

What does Roddick's record tell us about him? For one thing, it reveals a player who is mentally engaged for every tournament he enters, a canny competitor who understands that he has to earn his ranking points anywhere he can get them. Roddick knows his limitations all too well. Indeed, can you remember a top-ranked player who has taken so much flak for his shortcomings, which in Roddick's case are his hacker's backhand and choppy volleys? I can't. Yet he ably compensates for these weaknesses by relying not only on his celebrated serve, but also his gritty, if sometimes grating, mindset that sees him through so many matches.

Roddick is the ultimate grinder. As opposed to, say, David Nalbandian or Richard Gasquet or a host of other players who are vastly more talented but also prone to checking out mentally for long stretches of a season, Roddick is in there to fight for every match. He tends to beat the players he should defeat (e.g., lower-ranked opponents) and lose to those who are supposed to beat him (the Federers and Nadals of the world). In other words, he lives up to his ranking (No. 8 at the moment).

All told, Roddick's legacy is shaping up to paint a portrait of a gritty competitor: nothing special, maybe, but certainly not ordinary, either. There might not be an award for that, but it takes nothing away from Roddick's accomplishments over the past eight years.