- Matt Wilansky, Tennis editor
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More than four years removed from his first and only Grand Slam title, Andy Roddick has been exhaustedly attempting to reach that apex again.
Roddick's quest continues after he, at No. 6, became the highest-seeded casualty at the Australian Open after a scintillating 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9), 6-7 (3), 8-6 loss to No. 29 Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round.
The match encompassed brilliant shot-making, booming serves, grit and all-around peerless play from two players who maintained that level from its onset. Roddick finished with a career-best 42 aces and 79 winners.
But it wasn't enough. These weighty stats only amplify Roddick's affliction and disappointment in a year that was supposed to mark his renaissance at the age of 25.
In late November, Roddick led the Americans to their first Davis Cup title in 12 years. It was a monumental win that most believed would carry over into the new year. Roddick appeared primed for his first major task of 2008, and after two effortless straight-set wins, there was little reason to think otherwise.
"Yeah, that's sports, man. You know, if you don't want an emotional roller coaster, if you want to be serene and kind of chilled-out all day, then get a job serving margaritas at the beach or something," said a palpably irritated Roddick at his postmatch news conference. "When you decide to be a pro athlete, you're going to have ups, you're going to have downs, you're going to have extreme highs and extreme lows. That's just the nature of the beast."
Roddick's departure from the Australian Open was his earliest since his initial foray five years ago. "I took his best stuff for five sets and I thought I was going to get him to break or to fold. I thought if I kept it on him long enough that that would happen," said Roddick after 3 hours and 5 minutes of grinding it out.
Brevity is not a term often associated with Roddick at the Australian Open. In 2003 against a relentless Younes El Aynaoui in the quarterfinals, Roddick and the Moroccan put on an instant classic. Deep into the middle of the night, Roddick finally prevailed 21-19 in the fifth set -- the longest match in ATP history. The magic and will that propelled Roddick that day were not his allies this time around.
The lingering question now becomes the residual effect for a player who had such high hopes and expectations, but will be watching the remainder of the tournament anywhere but from the new Plexicushion surface in Australia.
"I still believe his best tennis is ahead of him," said ESPN analyst Luke Jensen, who was courtside for the match. "If Roddick continues to pursue his dreams of once again becoming No. 1 in the world, and if he continues to strive for the Grand Slam titles that have eluded him for so long, good things are bound to happen.
"This was an all-out battle. We didn't see just one player in the zone -- they were both there. Andy fought until the bitter end. And what impresses me the most was his composure in the key moments of the match, blasting his way out of trouble with ace after ace. And this came on new, slower courts which don't necessarily suit his game."
Kohlschreiber, who plays much bigger than his 5-foot-10 frame, engineered a nearly flawless game with an astounding 104 winners and just 33 unforced errors.
"The whole match, the whole game for me was perfect, I think, today," the exultant German, who now faces Jarkko Nieminen, told reporters afterward. "Hopefully tomorrow is an easy day and then maybe hopefully I'm fit again for the next round."
While Kohlschreiber can revel in what certainly ranks as one of his paramount moments on a grand stage, Roddick is left pondering his next move.
"He has nearly every shot in the game," Jensen said. "He needs to work on his quickness. He plays with confidence, has power and determination. All he needs is to be able to get out wide and retrieve balls like Roger Federer. Look how graceful [Federer] is. He moves so well and can always put himself in a good position, even after he is pulled out wide. If Andy can lose 10-12 pounds, it would make a world of difference.
"Roddick never once in this match decided to take the conservative route, and Jimmy Connors deserves a lot of credit for this approach. He was throwing screamers at Kohlschreiber, but it wasn't enough. I don't remember if I have ever seen two guys play so flawlessly. Roddick did not lose this match. Kohlschreiber beat him."
The American has four months until he can seek redemption at another Grand Slam. Of course, that will come on the dreaded clay courts of Roland Garros.
But that's an adventure for another day.
Matt Wilansky is the tennis editor for ESPN.com.
Maybe Andy Roddick wasn't expected to win the Australian Open, but he also didn't plan on bowing out in Week 1, either.