Commentary

The demise of two Andys

Updated: March 30, 2011, 6:22 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Brad Gilbert, as always an imposing study in all-black apparel and huge sunglasses, is sitting about eight feet from the changeover chair upon which Agnieszka Radwanska sits.

"Dude, they're warming up," the ESPN analyst says. "Gotta go to work. Real quick, what can I do for you?"

The caller, who had observed the recent demise of the two Andys -- Murray and Roddick -- at the Sony Ericsson Open, was looking for some context from the man who once coached them both. So, while Radwanska and Vera Zvonareva traded practice shots, Gilbert broke it down with a two-minute warning sense of urgency.

"One of my big things as a coach was stressing short-term memory," he said. "Remember the times you played good -- and forget all the rest. That's what these guys both have to do right now."

Certainly, there is a lot to forget. Murray, who reached the finals at the Australian Open, has played three matches in the two months since -- and failed to win even a set. Roddick, who won in Miami a year ago, lost in the third round at Indian Wells and the first round here, to Pablo Cuevas, of all people.

"I had a little trouble breathing out there," Roddick said after the straight-sets loss. "I've had something for a little while, but I'm going to have it checked out when I get home.

"You don't like going out there with, you know, less than what you got. I feel like I have been doing that a lot. It's just frustrating."

As a result, the man who has finished in the ATP World Tour top 10 for nine consecutive years (Roger Federer is the only other player who can say that), will fall to around No. 15 next Monday when the new rankings come out. Roddick, who suffered from a bronchial infection after winning the title in Memphis, has still managed to fashion an impressive 16-4 singles record.

"He's an unbelievably hard worker," Gilbert said. "He's going to have to go back [to Austin, Texas] and regroup. Obviously, this isn't his best time of year, heading into the clay season. But if he gets healthy, it might help him get ready for the grass."

Roddick is 28 and, despite a diversified game that has blossomed under coach Larry Stefanki, he seems destined to function at a level just below the Nadals, Federers and Djokovics. For someone of his age and stage, this seems logical.

Murray's recent slide, on the other hand, makes little sense. At 23, the sullen Scot should be approaching his prime. He confirmed as much by blowing through the draw in Melbourne, beating Alexandr Dolgopolov and David Ferrer to reach the finals opposite his good friend, Novak Djokovic.

After winning all of nine games in three sets, Murray seems to have taken a step backward. Marcos Baghdatis smoked him in Rotterdam, but that was a foreseeable result. What happened next at Indian Wells -- when Donald Young knocked him out in his first match -- was more disturbing. Murray followed that up with a weak effort against qualifier Alex Bogomolov, which represented the American's second career win ever over a top-10 player.

"I played poorly the last two weeks," Murray said. "I was happier with the way I competed this week than last, but, yeah, confidence could have something to do with that.

"The same thing happened around the same time last year. I have been practicing well, training well, and then [in] the matches, can't get anything going."

Gilbert, a fan of the NFL, sees a parallel.

[+] EnlargeRoddick
Al Bello/Getty ImagesAndy Roddick will lose his status as the top American when the rankings come out Monday.

"I think it's the Buffalo Bills," he said. "They lost a close Super Bowl [XXV, to the Giants] and they got the old hangover. They lost the next three. I feel bad for him because the same thing happened a year ago. He played phenomenal in Australia and you're thinking, 'OK, he's going to push through the window.'"

But instead of winning his first major, Murray has seen his game regress. His movement, his energy and, perhaps most importantly, his mind, aren't at the level we are accustomed to seeing. Murray recently parted with coach Alex Corretja and there are rumors that Ivan Lendl is being considered for the job. The happiest Murray's looked lately is in the commercial for Penn tennis balls, where he's joyously blasting targets with breathtaking accuracy.

What to expect from Murray going forward? After losing to Nadal a year ago, he reached only one of the three remaining Grand Slam semifinals. He did, however, manage to win ATP World Tour Masters events in Toronto and Shanghai.

"I think the loss Down Under hit him harder this time," Gilbert said. "But, honestly, I think it will make him stronger. He's too good of a player not to come back."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.