Commentary

Roddick has prime opportunity to snap losing streak versus Federer

The law of averages are squarely against Andy Roddick as he attempts to break his maddening losing streak versus Roger Federer in Miami.

Originally Published: April 2, 2008
By Bonnie D. Ford | ESPN.com

Federer-RoddickAP Photo/Kathy WillensHe's brought the kitchen sink and failed. But Andy Roddick, left, still exudes confidence heading into his quarterfinal matchup versus Roger Federer in Miami.
KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Andy Roddick is a big sports fan, and ergo, a big numbers guy. He's always ready to dish on college hoops in the spring and college football in the fall, and he and his camp engage in spirited fantasy league competition.

But there's one statistic in Roddick's life that could overwhelm him if he obsessed over it -- his 1-15 career record against his Sony Ericsson Open quarterfinal opponent, Roger Federer.

"Is that who I'm playing?" Roddick said in jest after he came from behind to beat France's Julien Benneteau at the Sony Ericsson Open to earn his 17th meeting with Federer in the past eight seasons.

You can look at stats through any prism you choose. All but two of those Federer-Roddick matches have been in the quarterfinal round or later, and one rose-colored way to view Roddick's ledger is that he's gone deep enough in tournaments to book those appointments.

Among the top 50 men, only Lleyton Hewitt (7-13) has played Federer more times; David Nalbandian's two upsets in Madrid and Paris late last year raised his record against the world No. 1 to 8-8.

It's also true that because of the way tennis plants its seeds, Roddick gains no more advantage from being ranked fifth or sixth -- where he's been since last August -- than he would be if he had slipped to seventh or eighth. He was drawn into Federer's quarter at last year's U.S. Open and again in this event.

But for any athlete as proud and competitive as Roddick, 1-15 represents nothing more than chronic frustration, a string of aborted Mt. Everest summit attempts. The trick now is to keep looking up.

"If I'm being frank, it is hard," Roddick said. "But at the same time, I feel like, you know, I'm out here because I feel like I can still win a Slam. If I'm 1-and-26 against Roger and that one win leads me to a Slam or leads me something that can get that, then I'm OK with that."

[+] EnlargeAndy Roddick
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaIt's been a frustrating losing streak for Andy Roddick against the world No. 1.
Federer was his usual diplomatic self about the matchup, saying some of his toughest encounters with Roddick have been in the United States (although Roddick's lone victory actually came in Toronto in 2003). "I've had some close ones here with him over the years," Federer observed. "A guy I always enjoy playing against, we have a lot of respect for each other."

One of Roddick's most impressive outings against Federer came in last year's U.S. Open quarterfinals, when Roddick kept his intensity level pinned on the red end of the instrument gauge through two sets that ended in tiebreaks before the usual dynamics took hold.

"He's one of the few guys that I've probably played three or four really, really good matches against him and came up short," Roddick said. "I think I have brought out the best in him a couple of times. Sometimes I've walked off the court shaking my head and wondering, but then a couple of times he hasn't played that great and I've matched him."

But the earth has shifted under Federer's feet this season in such a way that 15-1 might be almost as onerous for him as the inverse is for Roddick. The Swiss superstar's ranking, unchallenged for most of the past four years, is approaching mathematically endangered status this spring. His form has been in question since the start of the Australian Open and the subsequent revelation that he had mononucleosis.

Federer has looked sharp here so far, but he hasn't defeated a top-10 player this year. Now he's coming up against a No. 6 he's expected to beat every time, which is not the way things generally operate in the top strata of the sport. If Roddick were to win, the result is apt to be interpreted as something more than the law of averages at work.

"All I can do is put my best foot forward, and hopefully right now he's thinking about it a little bit," Roddick said. "You know, obviously I think I have to serve well. Just goes down to the basics: You serve well, you return well, you're going to give yourself looks against anybody."

Roddick said he's looking forward to the match. He's got a better record than Federer this season, and two more tournament titles -- including a quality campaign in Dubai that led through Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Roddick won here in Miami in 2004. He'd be favored here against almost any other top opponent.

"The guys have played so many times, but I feel like Andy's got some confidence going right now the way he played in Dubai," James Blake said Wednesday. "One bad match in Indian Wells I don't think affected him. Maybe just riding on cloud nine so well with his recent [engagement] that he'll take that and go into this match just fine.

"You know, he's going to have a lot of energy, and Roger is going to be Roger," said Blake, a Federer shutout victim (0-8). "He's going to be exceptional. He's going to do some things that you need to see to believe. I think it will come down to a really close match that will hinge on one or two points. It's going to be a very fun one to watch. It's unfortunate it's a quarter, because I think both these guys can and are playing well enough for it to be a final."

Breaking even against Federer isn't likely, and Roddick's in good company on that score. What he needs to do at the moment is break the maddeningly predictable grip of this streak.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.

Bonnie D. Ford covers Olympic sports for ESPN.com.