Roddick showing versatile game
PARIS -- The first set ended with a wonderfully executed piece of Claymation:
Well-placed serve. Drop-shot. Backhand volley winner.
Rafa? Roger? Wrong. Roddick.
Yes, Andy Roddick, under the tutelage of coach Larry Stefanki, has become something of a complete tennis player. Oh, he can still bust out the 219 kilometers-per-hour serve and, yes, that forehand is so big that it can still part the burnt sienna dust like, well, the Red Sea. But now there are artful backhand slices, patient 15-stroke rallies and well-conceived approach shots.
When Roddick ripped through the field nearly two months ago in Miami, he was broken only twice in 63 service games. On a damp, dreary day at Roland Garros, a 23-year-old Slovenian with the red-cheeked face of a Hummel figure, managed to break Roddick's serve twice in the first set alone.
Blaz Kavcic broke Roddick seven times all told. Still, he lost 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 in a match mangled by three rain delays.
That Roddick had to work so hard to defeat a player with only 20 previous matches at the ATP level is a testament to the egalitarian properties of clay. It is a tribute to Roddick that he has learned to overcome its blunting effects on his game -- even when it's a wetter, sloppier track than usual.
Roddick reached the fourth round here last year, a career best, and it is not a stretch to imagine him winning a third-round match and meeting David Ferrer in the round of 16.
Afterward, he acknowledged that Court Suzanne Lenglen was probably his least-favorite court in all of the world.
"It's the slowest here," he said. "It's the most challenging for me. I feel like every time I play out there it's raining.
"Wet day on Lenglen has been my Achilles heel. I've lost a lot of matches out there in conditions exactly like that. I was able to get through that one today. That was one that might have gotten away from me awhile ago. But I was just kind of staying the course."
Roddick did not prepare the conventional way for the only major played on clay. He had zero matches on the dirt after passing on Rome to spend his one-year anniversary with wife and swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker. He played a doubles match in Madrid, but a stomach virus confined him to bed for a few days and he was lucky to pick up a few exhibition matches.
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His rustiness was evident in his first-round match, a nasty five-set affair with the always engaging Jarkko Nieminen. That Roddick came back from a two-sets-to-one deficit was seen as encouraging.
"There was a lot of ugliness out there," Roddick observed. "But at the end of the day, I get to play again."
When the name Blaz Kavcic appeared on the line next to his in the draw, Roddick drew a blank.
So he did what a reporter would do. He asked around and found a guy who had played him in the qualifying round at the Australian Open. And then, the invariable Google search.
Kavcic, it turns out, is a pretty nifty player. He's ranked No. 112 among ATP World Tour players and has a winning percentage over .500. His chief issue was an inability to serve. Roddick broke his serve 10 times.
The final numbers: Roddick had a 13-0 edge in aces, won 32 of 57 points at the net and hit 53 winners. The fact he lifted his Roland Garros record (9-8) over .500 underlined his perseverance.
"I'm in better shape now than I was three years ago," he said. "I don't think the difference is as big as everyone talks about. I think it's just a matter of between the ears. I was very frustrated at times, and I was audible with it at times. I have a sense of calm, even when things aren't going my way."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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