- Ravi Ubha, Tennis
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Whether he wins or loses, Andy Roddick is usually a chirpy guy. After his defeat to unpredictable Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year, though, he sat dejected in the main interview room at the All England Club, head mostly down and none of his trademark humor in sight. "Pretty crappy" was how he felt.
Roddick has plenty of reason to be optimistic heading into this year's tournament that kicks off Monday, the most open match since Roger Federer began his impregnable reign.
Since blowing the two-set and break lead to Gasquet on a fateful Friday, Roddick has led the U.S. to the Davis Cup title, ended his agonizing losing streak against the suddenly vulnerable Swiss in Miami and taken out the chasing pack of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Off the court, he got engaged to swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker, surely breaking a few hearts.
There was more good news last week at the Artois Championships at the plush Queen's Club in southwest London, the premier Wimbledon warm-up that featured six of the world's top 11 players and arguably the nicest grass courts around. Roddick kept it close against eventual champion Nadal in the semifinals, even though he hadn't practiced much because of an ailing serving shoulder that forced him to retire at the Rome Masters and skip the French Open.
"I wanted to come here, get some matches in, leave healthy," Roddick told reporters in the wake of his 7-5, 6-4 loss to the surging Spaniard. "I feel that's what I've done. Wimbledon should be exciting. It should be very exciting. I think Roger's certainly the favorite until someone knocks him off. But there's maybe some more conversation this year than there has been in years past."
Much of the conversation surrounding the world No. 6 at Queen's centered on the shoulder, which, by Roddick's own admission, has "probably" been the part of his body that's given him the fewest problems since he turned pro in 2000.
Soreness meant Roddick couldn't unleash his big serves ahead of the Rome Masters, where he downed good pal Mardy Fish, dangerous clay-court specialist and local favorite Simone Bolelli and the experienced Tommy Robredo before pulling out in the first set of the semis against rising Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka.
He started hitting again a few weeks ago, back home in Austin, Texas. Even then, it was a case of one day on, two off. Roddick went "full out" on serve the day before his opening match at the Artois Championships versus in-form countryman Robby Ginepri, who ended up failing to manufacture a break point.
"If you don't serve for three or four weeks, it's going to take a little bit to get the pop back," Roddick said, confessing that he drove Decker "crazy" during his time off. "It's not because I'm in pain that it's not coming off. It will just take a little bit of time to get those 3, 4, 5 miles an hour back."
If there was a positive, Roddick's placement improved.
"I think it's helped him with his location because he slowed it down and didn't serve as big for a while," coach and older brother John Roddick said as Roddick finished a practice session with Gasquet at Queen's. "Now all of a sudden his location is really good."
After the three-set victory over Ginepri, Roddick included himself in a list of potential Wimbledon winners, joining Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. A runner-up to Federer in 2004 and 2005, he added former champion Lleyton Hewitt and British hope Andy Murray to the mix a day later.
Hewitt, however, has a wonky hip and admitted he wouldn't be playing if it weren't the grass-court season, and Murray sprained his right thumb Thursday and has yet to make a Grand Slam quarterfinal.
U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe said Roddick's chances are excellent. He's more mature, stronger mentally and doesn't let "the lows" affect him as much. And those results against Federer, Nadal and Djokovic earlier in the season are sure to help.
Roddick served impeccably against Federer in the quarterfinals of the Sony Ericsson Open for his first win in his past 12 matches against the world No. 1, about a month after downing Nadal and Djokovic on back-to-back days -- in straight sets -- at the Dubai Tennis Championships.
"I just think he's in a better place emotionally, overall," McEnroe said. "Being engaged I think has really helped him. He's sort of growing up. He realizes if he puts the work in, and if he keeps working hard, he's going to get the results.
"I've always admired him because he keeps grinding away. To lose to Roger 11 times in a row, to go out there and bust and try to get a win, and he gets it, I think that makes a difference heading into Wimbledon. He's had that experience. If he gets to the quarters or semis against any of those top guys, he goes out there with a pretty good attitude."
Echoing the sentiments of more than a few others, McEnroe said Roddick must be more aggressive on returns and can't afford to engage in long baseline rallies with the top guys. In the semifinal loss to Nadal in London, Roddick indeed tried to change things up, pouncing on some second serves and also rushing the net, although his approach shots often lacked sting.
"I'm not talking about taking a huge swing on a return," McEnroe said. "I'm talking about tinkering and maybe stepping around and cracking a couple of forehands at 15-30 or 30-all. Not major differences, just subtle tweaks in a game that when you're playing a big match against a top player can make a difference."
Maybe the difference between Roddick's feeling crappy or not will come in early July this year.
Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
He won't be favored to win, but there are several reasons American Andy Roddick should be able to make a deep run at Wimbledon, writes Ravi Ubha.