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Despite losing streak, Roddick never stopped believing in himself

4/4/2008 - Tennis
To say Roddick was relieved after snapping an 11-match losing streak to Federer is an understatement. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- It must be love, because most women would not permit themselves to be wrapped in the kind of big, sweaty, clothes-rumpling hug Andy Roddick gave his new fiancée, Brooklyn Decker, on the patio of the players' lounge after he beat Roger Federer for only the second time in 17 aggravating attempts.

"I guess all I had to do was be engaged," he said.

Well, yes. Along with serving exceptionally, and playing clean tennis, and not letting Federer's absurdly good stuff-it-down-your-throat passing shots rent too much space in his head, and converting on the one precious break point Federer offered him.

Roddick's game gives him little margin for error against Federer. He's left everything on the court against the world No. 1 with nothing to show for it on a few occasions. His burdensome 11-match losing streak dated back to 2003; he hadn't taken a set from Federer since late 2006.

No wonder he bent over, drenched in perspiration and relief, after getting the best of Federer 7-6, 4-6, 6-3 in the Sony Ericsson Open quarterfinals. The win snapped a stretch that encompassed some of Roddick's most heartbreaking losses, including finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

When Roddick straightened up, he let his face relax into a wide, easy grin that was reminiscent of the years when he first blasted onto the scene with his nuclear serve. Traces of that hyperkinetic kid remain in Roddick, but he's 25 now and has the perspective athletes gain only after they've run headlong into a few walls. He exuded more quiet satisfaction than wild emotion afterward.

"That's what you wake up for," he said. "That's what you go to the practice court for. You can have the low moments, but those kind of -- those 10, 15 seconds after a big win probably make up for a lot of bad days."

But, he cautioned, "I'm not going to sit here and act like all of a sudden I've fixed the problem. I think I'm batting 2-for-16. Still pretty crappy; it's a little less crappy."

Federer implied that Roddick was due to beat him this time.

"I didn't make it tough enough for him to come up with good shots," said Federer, whose serve lacked its usual pinpoint efficacy, and who shanked two backhands serving at 3-4 in the third set, then swatted a ball into the net to yield the break point that turned things in Roddick's direction with shocking swiftness. "I missed too many, and I think that was the disappointing part about the match today.

"Sometimes the opponent plays well and puts you under pressure. That's why I always said it's tough to play against Andy, you know, that serve. He's always going to have a chance. That's why I'm quite amazed about my record against him."

Yet this result should be seen through a wide-format lens instead of an isolation camera. Roddick has been stacking up the building blocks in the two months since his disappointingly early exit from the Australian Open.

He won a warmup title in San Jose before blitzing through the draw in Dubai, toppling No. 2 Rafael Nadal -- a potential finals opponent here -- and No. 3 Novak Djokovic. He could hit for the cycle Friday if he knocks off No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko, who is winless against him in five tries.

It also should be noted that Roddick is 9-1 since what he describes as a cordial split with ubercoach Jimmy Connors in February, with the only blemish a loss to Tommy Haas at Indian Wells. Even that blow was softened somewhat when his close buddy Mardy Fish took out Federer in the semifinals. Roddick had just come off the practice court when he heard the news, and went out for an extra run, charged up with vicarious adrenaline.

Some players would need time to recover from any kind of coaching change. But Roddick has continuity in the form of his brother John, a "court rat," in Andy's words, who has continued his scouting, counsel and general support even as reporters focused on Connors' glitzy presence.

"I think he always believed that, maybe more so than me at times, that [beating Federer] would happen," Roddick said.

John Roddick returned the compliment, giving Andy all the credit for his recent run, observing that his skin has grown thicker in the sometimes obscure crucible of Davis Cup. "He played well -- like a couple other times when he played against [Federer] and didn't win," the older brother said, leaning against a wall inside the stadium after the match.

"To take all the heat he's taken and respond and play some of his best tennis after Australia, when he was really down, sure I'm proud."

The trick now, with the dragon temporarily slain, is not to get so cranked up that he ignores the pesky Davydenko -- recent record notwithstanding. "He's a tough out," John Roddick said. "Look what he did to [Janko] Tipsarevic today -- Tipsarevic has been playing well. But Andy's traditionally handled that fairly well."

No sweat. Roddick admitted his hands were shaking when he first sat down after the match, but he settled down quickly when he walked into the locker room "and the guy said, 'You're playing at 7 o'clock tomorrow,'" Roddick said. One spell was broken Thursday night and the last thing he wants to happen is for Davydenko to wave the same wand 24 hours later.

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