- Bonnie D. Ford, Enterprise and Olympic Sports
- 0 Shares
PARIS -- Andy Roddick has always had time off on the back end of the French Open. He has played himself into another work week this year, and nothing would please him more than being able to continue punching in.
"Any time you accomplish a goal, it's nice, but my tournament is not over," Roddick said after sealing his first appearance in the fourth round here. "I'd like to keep going, you know. I don't even have anything else to do next week. I'd like to stick around."
Roddick didn't drop a set through the first three rounds, demonstrating what ESPN analyst Mary Carillo called "great clarity" in his game plan. Playing more efficiently, patiently and creatively than he has here in the past, Roddick has earned a shot to become the first American male quarterfinalist in Paris since Andre Agassi in 2003.
To equal that performance, the sixth-seeded Roddick would have to prevail in a match against favorite son and 2008 semifinalist Gael Monfils that promises a much higher degree of difficulty and electricity. The two are tied at three wins apiece in their career series, and Roddick has won their past two encounters, both on hard court, in Doha and Miami; 11th-seeded Monfils dominated a pair of matches on clay in 2006 and 2007.
"He likes playing against Gael," said Roddick's energetic coach, Larry Stefanki. "He stands so far back, and now that [Roddick's] backhand is solid, he doesn't panic. He likes the fact that the guy pretty much only plays defense. But he's the best athlete out here, and he's got the crowd. One thing beautiful about Andy is he loves to take on a challenge. I like Andy's chances in that match."
But Monfils, 22, is also a different player than he was a year ago. His combination of unearthly athletic talent and natural slapstick ability led, perhaps unfairly, to occasional mutterings that he was a slacker. Rarely do French players go outside their national borders for help, but Monfils sought out Australian taskmaster Roger Rasheed. His English has since improved, and so has his work ethic.
"I think he's learned a lot in the last 12 months, to be honest," Rasheed said. "He has a different attitude to his preparation, his training, his match day preparation going on the court and how he treats five-set tennis. He's a person who enjoys this environment. He's made for this environment if he understands how to take it on."
Greater tactical acuity has told part of the tale, but underlying Roddick's modest run so far is something that has been a theme in his remarkably consistent career.
"He has it in the cabeza [head], he knows how good a competitor he is," Stefanki said. "He knows he's a better competitor than most of these guys. Some guys are born with foot speed. He's not one of them. He's disciplined, and he's willing to go through what it takes. He wants to get better, and for a guy who's been on the tour eight or nine years, that's unusual."
Roddick is lighter on his feet than he was a year ago thanks to strenuous offseason training, and he shows opponents a number of different looks on his serve that are effective on clay.
He can't count on dictating pace as he does on hard court, and needs to wait for his best opportunity in rallies without letting the Frenchman extend them too long. "He won't want to get into a track meet with Monfils," Carillo said.
Stefanki has emphasized two strategic aspects that particularly apply to the surface: varying Roddick's net approach and making sure his backhand stance is balanced rather than the wrong-footed lunge that can cost him positioning on the next point. Roddick is comfortable with the slice -- he played with a one-handed backhand as a young boy -- but Stefanki wants him to either angle it more sharply or send it deeper and to try more backhand winners down the line.
"With his serve and his fitness and his ability now to repeat off the backhand side and then playing defense, I said, 'Listen, there's no reason you can't do well at this tournament,'" Stefanki said. "'Big-game players have done well at this tournament, and I haven't seen you do that. It's time.'"
Roddick, 26, has had the better 2009 season, winning one ATP event (Memphis) and going deep in several others, including the finals in Doha and the semifinals at the Australian Open and Indian Wells. He has 27 career titles to Monfils' solitary win in Sopot, Poland, in 2005.
One intangible in Roddick's game right now is his wife of a few weeks, model Brooklyn Decker, whom everyone in his inner circle credits as a calming influence for a hyperkinetic personality. Another is simple pride. Roddick has been a Grand Slam and Davis Cup champion. He refused to give up on reversing his fortunes at Roland Garros.
"It got redundant," Roddick said. "I certainly felt like it was the same press conference for about four or five years in a row, which was disappointing.
"I said earlier this week, if you take away this tournament, I have a pretty good clay-court résumé. Obviously not what my career is on other surfaces. But if you even compare it to guys who play well on this stuff or are a specialist, it matches up favorably most matchups. But I hadn't played well at this event."
Rasheed said Monfils knows better than to treat his opponent with anything but the utmost respect.
"If [Monfils] wants to punch, he can punch pretty heavy," Rasheed said. "He's got a lot of weapons he can use in addition to being a negator.
"What Andy brings is a great professional attitude to the court. He understands how to play these five-set matches, he understands Grand Slam tennis, he's won one, he's been deep in a lot of them. So he brings a great challenge to have good concentration over five sets. Hopefully, Gael's game offers Andy a lot of challenges, asks him a lot of questions out there, and let's see who can solve the problems."
Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.
We're not sure how much further American Andy Roddick will travel at the French Open, but you can count on this: He's ready for the challenge.