Roddick exits Grand Slam early yet again

Wimbledon was supposed to be where Andy Roddick jump-started his season. Instead, he's going home, left to wonder what's gone wrong with his game, writes Greg Garber.

Updated: July 2, 2006, 12:01 AM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- The All England Club, in its time-honored wisdom, declined to show England's World Cup match with Portugal on its massive electronic screen Saturday afternoon.

Instead, the club featured Andy Murray, the 19-year-old Scotsman and Great Britain's great hope for the tennis future. It was an odd juxtaposition: The thousands gathered on the hill outside Court 1 watched Murray play Andy Roddick and followed the soccer match via cell phones.

As soon as Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo struck the winning penalty kick in Germany, there was a universal groan. Seconds later, Murray played a terrific point in a first-set tiebreaker, winning it with an improbable lob and taking an insurmountable lead. This was greeted with a polite murmur.

Andy Roddick
AP Photo/Anja NiedringhausThis is the earliest Andy Roddick has lost at Wimbledon since 2002.

A few hours later, buoyed by the performance of their British compatriot, the fans' reaction was considerably less reserved. Murray won in resounding fashion, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-4. Roddick, who was a finalist here the last two years before losing to Roger Federer, goes out in the third round, capping a miserable run in his last four Grand Slams.

Only a single American survives to the second week at the All England Club. Who imagined it would be Shenay Perry? Lately, the French Open has proved difficult for Americans, but Wimbledon has always been a U.S.-friendly venue.

"Yeah, it sucks," Roddick said. "Obviously, I think it is a lot more surprising-slash-disappointing when it's here, a place that we've all had a lot of success.

"Are my spirits dampened? Hell, yeah, they're dampened. I'm very disappointed. I'm not happy. I'm mad, disappointed, whatever other adjectives you want to throw out there. I'm not that smart, so you think of them."

"I'm obviously pretty chuffed," said Murray, employing an English colloquialism roughly equivalent to stoked or fired up. "I played a great match today. I wasn't expecting to win, although I did feel I had a slight chance if I returned well.

"I came up with some really big shots on the break points, especially in the first set and at the start of the second. To win in three sets is pretty special for me."

Roddick, echoing the general sentiments of many players here, said the fast conditions that have allowed him to flourish here in the past have been dulled.

"Seventy percent of the points today, it's tough when I feel like I'm inside the court, hitting an aggressive forehand deep to a corner and getting beat consistently from six to eight feet behind the baseline," he said. "It's pretty frustrating.

"The last thing I want to do is make a whole big stink. That's not me. But if you ask me a question, I'm going to give you an honest answer. I feel like you're having to work a lot harder to win points on a grass tennis court.

"It's tough, because three hard forehands to three corners in a row used to work. "

Roddick was essentially meeting a convincing facsimile of Andy Roddick, circa 2001. At 19, Roddick won his first tournaments (Atlanta, Houston and Washington) and pulled his ranking up to No. 14 -- from No. 158.

Murray actually made his move a little earlier, soaring to No. 65 from No. 514 a year ago, at the age of 18. Their paths converged in February at the SAP Open in San Jose, Calif. The wispy teenager -- Murray is listed at 6-foot-1, 150 pounds -- was not intimidated by Roddick's serving bombs. Rather, he read them quite well.

Murray won the semifinal match 7-5, 7-5 -- the biggest victory of his young life, considering the opponent. He went one better in the final, defeating Lleyton Hewitt. The next week in Memphis, Tenn., he reached the quarterfinals but then couldn't put together back-to-back wins in nine tournaments.

The first round saw Murray dispatch Nicolas Massu, the No. 31 seed, in straight sets, and Julien Benneteau succumbed in the second. Roddick, the No. 3 seed here behind Federer and Rafael Nadal, is in a different class.

Roddick held the edge in play through the first set, earning four break points on Murray's serve. Murray saved them all. He won the tiebreaker when Roddick's lunging forehand volley attempt went wide.

Although Roddick is happiest on the baseline, bashing groundstrokes, he ill-advisedly forced the issue numerous times in the match by coming to net, where he is decidedly uncomfortable. On set point in the second, Roddick charged to net and Murray pushed a backhand down the line for a winner.

How did Murray perform under duress? He saved the first 11 break points of the match, a remarkable figure against a player of Roddick's ability. On the other side, Roddick's serve was recorded as high as 142 mph, but Murray managed to break it three times.

The third set was an implosion waiting to happen. It happened with Roddick serving at 4-5 to stay in the match. He saved the first match point but on the second, he rushed to meet a short ball and pushed the forehand long.

Both players looked stunned.

When the new ATP rankings come out after Wimbledon, there is a decent chance -- depending on how other players fare -- that Roddick could fall out of the top 10 for the first time since October 2002.

"It's not like me to lay down," Roddick said. "So, you know, I'll just keep on trying to truck along. That's what I've been trying to do this year. Just kind of have to have faith that something good is going to happen sometime."

Murray will play his fourth-round match against Marcos Baghdatis, a finalist at the Australian Open.

The Lawn Tennis Association, eager to raise the level of the British game, has reportedly offered Brad Gilbert -- the former coach of Roddick and Andre Agassi -- to coach Murray. After firing two coaches, Murray is working temporarily with Leon Smith, his childhood coach.

Perhaps he should stay with the status quo: the long-standing combination of Smith and Murray's mother, Judy, the former Scottish national coach.

At Wimbledon, with the demise of Tim Henman, Murray has become the leading tennis story in the Fleet Street tabloids. And, wonder of wonders, he seems to have responded to the pressure that promises to become oppressive.

With the English soccer team out of the World Cup, he will get some serious and unprecedented attention in the coming days.

"Obviously, them losing is going to change things a little bit," Murray said. "I think there might be a few more journalists, but I don't think the expectation will be any higher. I think I'll almost get more support now than I would have done."

It was blazing in London, touching the low 90s, and by the end of the match, Roddick was sodden, sweat dripping off his hat like a faucet. Murray, so cool he was cold, didn't even look moist around the edges -- except maybe a few tears welling in his eyes after he won.

Last year, he reached the third round at Wimbledon. Now, he has surpassed himself with another step.

"This year is a bit different. There's more expectation," Murray said. "You know, to get into the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time is great. I'm used to being around the locker room when there's only kind of 16 people left. It's much quieter.

"I'm obviously looking forward to playing."

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.