Commentary

Regimented Roddick ready for change

It's not like Jiffy Lube, where you're in and out in 30 seconds. Andy Roddick understands another major will come only with long, tireless work.

Updated: January 20, 2009, 3:08 AM ET
By Kamakshi Tandon | Special to ESPN.com

Andy RoddickCameron Spencer/Getty ImagesA discernibly trimmed-up Andy Roddick dropped only four games in the opening round.

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Change is good. It's the catchphrase of the moment as the United States prepares for Barack Obama's inauguration on Tuesday, and it's not far away from the minds of the American men Down Under either.

With his 2008 season marred by injury and early defeats at major events, Andy Roddick is hoping for a quick turnaround this year under new coach Larry Stefanki.

After dropping 15 pounds during the offseason and reaching the final of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in the first week of the year, Roddick got his Australian Open campaign off to an encouraging start by defeating Swedish qualifier Bjorn Rehnquist 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 on a blisteringly hot Monday.

Every year since his lone major victory at the 2003 U.S. Open, Roddick has had a simple, if not easy goal: Win another Grand Slam title.

The pickings have been slim in the past few years for any ATP player not named Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. But with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray managing to bridge the gap last season, the rest of the pack is now hoping that more change is in the air.

Stefanki, a big Obama supporter with family members involved in the Democratic presidential campaign, has already picked up on the theme.

"The philosophy that Obama projects, his background -- I've read both his books -- where he comes from and what he has attained in his life is very, very spot-on for me," Stefanki said after Roddick's opening-round win. "I think Andy's also with the viewpoint of 'change is good.' He hired me; he could pick anybody."

Stefanki, who previously worked with John McEnroe, Marcelo Rios, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Fernando Gonzalez, is clear about the adjustments he would like to see the big-serving Roddick make in his game: go for more on the return, particularly off second serves; neaten up his footwork; be more aggressive with his huge forehand.

The veteran American coach has not been shy about drilling these convictions into Roddick. "There's a lot of pieces of the puzzle. It's not like Jiffy Lube -- in and out in 30 minutes," Stefanki said. "You've gotta say, 'Listen, your feet aren't moving, you're as stiff as a rock. Hit, move, hit, move.' People get kind of tired of hearing it, but it's something that has to be a way of life until it becomes part of you."

Roddick feels he's managed to act on the suggestions since the two began working together in December. "If you practice it enough, it gets easier in the matches. That's kind of his philosophy," Roddick said. "Right now I feel comfortable doing it. I played pretty well in Doha; it was pretty comfortable today.

"That's pretty much all we have to base it on so far. So -- so far, so good."

Roddick does not plan to get up to watch the inauguration on television in the middle of the night Australian time, but Stefanki has already set his clock: "I'm going to watch it."

[+] EnlargeMardy Fish
Lucas Dawson/Getty ImagesIn what was an otherwise desultory first day for American men, Mardy Fish socked 18 aces to move on to Round 2.

The daunting time difference means the players will "probably try to YouTube it," said Mardy Fish, a 6-7(3), 6-4, 7-5, 6-0 winner over Australian Sam Groth.

Fish knows firsthand how hard ingraining change can be, having reworked his forehand a couple of years ago but finding he still reverts back to his old stroke from time to time. "It's been two years now and it gets away a little bit," he said. "If my forehand's feeling bad, I always resort back to that swing."

There will be a big change of a personal nature for Roddick later this year when he marries fiancée Brooklyn Decker in April. Fish, whose wedding last September Roddick did not attend because of a tournament in Bangkok, joked about whether he would show up when Roddick tied the knot. "Yes, probably. Or I might head over to Asia and pick up some tournaments, maybe an exhibition," Fish drawled, stroking his chin.

One American playing on Monday has already turned around his fortunes completely. Taylor Dent, who believed his career was over after multiple back surgeries left him in a cast for nine months and largely bedridden for a year and a half, played an encouraging match.

After some stuttering comeback attempts last year, he has now managed to play for three straight weeks, going five sets in a 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 loss to fellow American Amer Delic in his first-round contest.

"Until I had a little bit of trouble with my leg, I was winning the match," Dent said. "So it's just a question of me toughening up the rest of my body."

Having shed weight (down from a plump 235 pounds to a more muscular 217), he is feeling positive about the year ahead: "I know I've got work on my plate, but I'm excited. After maybe tomorrow or the next day, I'll be a little bit more cheery about how I've played and how I've done on this trip, and I can look forward."

Yes, he can.

U.S. Roundup

Querrey struggled to adjust to the conditions in Melbourne, having flown in Sunday after reaching the final at the Heineken Open in Auckland. "The courts are fast," he said. "I don't know what everyone else has been saying, but they're much faster than in Auckland."

He kept the contest close in the first set but could not rebound from losing the tiebreak. "The ball was flying, so whoever won that tiebreaker was going to be able to take some chances," Querrey said.

Kohlschreiber, whose flashy one-handed backhand helped him oust Andy Roddick in the third round last year, is now just one win away from a rematch with the No. 1 American.

John Isner was affected by the heat in a 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 loss to Dominik Hrbaty, suffering from dehydration and cramps in his left leg. "I feel like I'm playing well, I don't feel I need to change anything I do in my practice," he said, having reached the quarterfinals in Auckland as a qualifier -- his best result since he reached the same stage of the Legg Mason Classic in Washington last August.

The remaining Americans in action didn't fare much better. Tomas Berdych defeated Robby Ginepri 6-4, 6-4, 6-3, Tommy Robredo cruised past Bobby Reynolds 6-2, 7-5, 6-1 and Robin Soderling overcame Robert Kendrick 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5. On the women's side, Mathilde Johansson edged veteran Jill Craybas 6-2, 1-6, 7-5.

Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.