- Greg Garber, Writer, Reporter
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WIMBLEDON, England -- He is still only 26 years old -- and a frisky newlywed at that -- but somewhere along the winding road, Andy Roddick morphed into Veteran Guy.
After defeating Frenchman Jeremy Chardy in the first round Tuesday, Roddick was asked if his experience had been a factor.
"Maybe he was a little more nervous than I was," Roddick said. "Subtle things like that help. At this point in my career, I'm not going to face many new scenarios. So, maybe that's a good thing.
"Every year's different. You're not getting wins on finals played five and six years ago."
It was the 100th Grand Slam singles match win of Roddick's career -- the century mark -- and, the way the planets are aligning here at the All England Club, he has his clearest path in four years to the semifinals, where, presumably, he would face Britain's Andy Murray.
Not only did No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal check out before the tournament began, but earlier on Thursday Lleyton Hewitt personally escorted No. 5 seed Juan Martin Del Potro from the premises with a straight-sets win. Both players were in Roddick's quarter of the draw. Jurgen Melzer is up next, and the highest seed left in his sector is No. 12 Nikolay Davydenko.
"A win is a win," Roddick said after dropping the third set, then coming back to play his best set here. "Got through."
If he reaches the all-Andy semifinal in a little over a week's time, Roddick would be viewed by the partisan locals as a massive underdog. Truth is, Roddick has always been compared unfavorably to somebody.
When he turned pro in 2000, he wasn't as good as Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. In 2003, Roddick won the U.S. Open and finished as the ATP World Tour's year-end No. 1 -- and then Federer usurped the crown. As Federer and Nadal have won 19 of the past 22 Grand Slam titles, Roddick fell from No. 2 to No. 3 to No. 6 and, last year, to No. 8.
Suddenly, Novak Djokovic, Murray and even Del Potro seemed better positioned to win a Grand Slam title.
Yes, Roddick lives on his serve and forehand, which are in sparkling form here early on. Sure, his backhand could be sharper and he sometimes seems out of his element at net, but perhaps it's time to appreciate Roddick for who he is -- not who (or what) he isn't.
Consider this: Roddick has been in the year-end top 10 for each of the past seven years. Roddick has won at least one ATP title for the past nine years, going back to 2001. Only one other player has equaled those achievements. His name is Federer.
"Hey," said Patrick McEnroe, Roddick's Davis Cup captain, "maybe Roddick's not so bad."
How consistent has Roddick been? Since 2002, he's been outside the top 10 for all of four weeks. And, in case you were wondering, Roddick is third among active male players in Grand Slam match wins, 77 behind Federer and 22 behind Hewitt.
Since Roddick lost 15 pounds at the prodding of coach Larry Stefanki, McEnroe will tell you that Roddick is playing the best tennis of his life.
"He's in a very good place, mentally," said McEnroe, who is also an ESPN analyst. "I equate it to a couple of things. One, maturity. Two, his wife [Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker].
"The other thing is he's not worried about that question that keeps coming up: 'Andy, are you going to win another Slam?' Listen, he's put the work in. He's still as competitive as ever. But he doesn't let the outside stuff bother him as much."
This was evident when Roddick was asked earlier in the week about all the hype surrounding the chances of Federer and Murray.
"I don't care who you guys are writing about," Roddick said. "Predicting two weeks from now, that's not how we go about our tournaments. I know it's great and your job is to sensationalize stuff and get it out there.
"As players, we appreciate that, but that's not our job. Our job is to try to get through each round."
It has been fashionable to say that Roddick was born at the wrong time -- that if he had appeared a few years earlier (or Federer was born later), Roddick might have two Wimbledon trophies to go with his U.S. Open.
In essence, this is true. But, really, it's a hypothetical exercise.
After Marat Safin played his last match at Wimbledon on Tuesday, he opined that he may have left one or two major championships on the table. You can argue that a rain delay in the 2004 final here might have cost Roddick the title, but all things considered, he has probably overachieved in his career, rather than underachieved.
He was asked Thursday about the burden one carries in an individual sport.
"Not any more than I have for the rest of my career," he said, drawing laughter from his news conference audience. "I mean, it's not exactly a new position for me. You know, obviously you'd like it to be different, but that's not the way it is.
"You know, this ain't Candy Land. We can't really make fantasy worlds up. You just kind of deal with it and move on."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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