Roddick struggled to dictate play

Updated: January 28, 2004, 2:40 PM ET
By Malivai Washington | Special to ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Once again, Andy Roddick had an interesting quarterfinal at the Australian Open. He started out better than he could have expected on Tuesday. He was able to get the early break of serve and he protected his own serve.

Even though Roddick won the first set 6-2, watching from courtside, I continually felt that shot-for-shot from the baseline that Marat Safin had the advantage.

I was expecting Safin to be a little more aggressive by coming in on his own serve and trying to attack off of the ground as he had done in previous matches. But I suppose he just felt comfortable that he could be successful from the baseline. And he was for sets two and three winning them 6-3, 7-5.

Coming into the match, I thought that Safin was a better baseline player than Roddick because Safin seemed equally lethal off his forehand and backhand side. It allowed him to direct a lot of his shots into the Roddick backhand side Tuesday. Consequently, Roddick found himself running around a lot of backhands to hit his forehand, leaving the forehand court open for Safin to take advantage of some key moments.

For Roddick, a player like Safin makes it very difficult to determine what side to play to because he's so balanced off the forehand side. Whereas Roddick has a solid backhand, there's no question his forehand is his bigger weapon off the ground.

At the beginning of the fourth set, Roddick felt like he had to press more and be a little bit more aggressive from the baseline. He started exerting himself off the forehand side. He began controlling the points more from the baseline, which he was not able to do in sets two and three.

Roddick actually got outplayed in the fourth set, but he has one shot that will always be in his back pocket no matter how his day is going: his big serve. His serve got him to the tiebreak in the fourth set. Once in the tiebreak, everything went right for him, including some horrible mistakes by Safin, allowing Roddick to win it 7-0.

Once they got to the fifth set (because the Aussie Open does not allow for a tiebreak in the final set), it meant the match was going to be won by the player who could get the break of serve.

When Roddick was broken, it was as if he was the first player to blink in the fifth set. He got two first serves in that game but only one free point off of those first serves. Against a player like Safin, who had been protecting his own serve so well not having been broken since the first set, Roddick could not afford to play a sloppy game.

Amazingly, in the final game of the match, Roddick did have two break points. On his flight home, he'll be thinking about 30-40 and the second-serve forehand sitter that he put in the middle of the net to lose the final set 6-4. Roddick should be able to go away with some positive thoughts, but that will be the thing that is etched in his head from this year's Australian Open.

Each year, every player can probably look to two to five matches that make a huge difference in their season. In last year's quarterfinal, Roddick's epic match against Younes El Aynaoui was one of the matches that made a huge impact on his season. This match will make a huge difference on Safin's season. He is finally showing the tennis that he's capable of again.

One significant impact of this loss, is that Andy Roddick will lose his No. 1 ranking. Most players would have their ranking improve if they reach the quarterfinal of a major. When you're the No. 1 player in the world, you need to win majors and tournaments or your ranking will fall.

I've actually heard people talk about the fact that Roger Federer should probably be the No. 1 player in the world because they feel he is the best player in the world. Statistically speaking, Roddick accumulated more points last year, got to No. 1 and finished the year there. But Federer made a monumental statement when he ended the year in Houston at the Masters Cup beating Andre Agassi twice, Juan Carlos Ferrero, David Nalbandian and Roddick, all in the same week, to finish the year No. 2 instead of No. 3.

As of tonight, when the rankings come out, we know Roddick will not be No. 1 when the rankings are released on Monday. Instead, that spot will be held either by Federer or Ferrero.

MaliVai Washington, a tennis analyst for ESPN, reached the 1996 Wimbledon final.

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