Andy Roddick's search for affirmation
There's always some little sideshow when Andy Roddick rolls into London, and England's famous tabloids are happy to keep it rolling along. Two years ago it was Rick Astley. Last year, it was World Cup officiating. This year -- brace yourself -- it might be the Wurzels, an excruciating British band that music references categorize as "scrumpy and western" and Roddick called "part shock-horror, part awesome."
Here are five players who became beloved at Wimbledon by not winning the event:
1. Ivan Lendl
Lendl used to skip the tournament in his early years, and then spent the later part of his career putting all his effort into trying to win the one Grand Slam that still eluded him. The all-time great made seven semifinals and two finals, but never got over the last hurdle.
2. Tim Henman
Local favorite Henman never even made a final, but his annual five-set thrillers became a Wimbledon tradition and created a new viewing phenomenon that still continues at Henman Hill.
3. Andy Roddick
Three finals losses to Federer, and the last one was a classic -- 16-14 in the fifth in 2009. Will he get another try?
4. Pat Rafter
The charismatic serve-volleying Aussie was a losing finalist when Pete Sampras won his record 14th major, and when Goran Ivanisevic got himself off his list by becoming the first wild card to win the tournament. "I'm sick of making bloody history," growled Rafter.5. Ken Rosewall
Four finals for the ageless Aussie wizard, and he too never got over the top.
Or maybe it'll be the socks -- the calf-less numbers Roddick was sporting at Queen's last week. They have either been hiding behind his ankle braces all this time or reveal a rankings-fashion pecking order we had previously been unaware of. Remember, short-socks aficionado Mardy Fish recently moved ahead of Roddick to become the top-ranked American for the first time. Then there's Roddick's tongue-in-cheek explanation: "Everyone comments on how my wife has nice legs, so I just decided to display them also. I can't come in second in the family in everything." Either way, it's slightly unsettling.
All of this serves to distract nicely from the fact that Roddick's Wimbledon prospects are also distinctly unsettled. All the ambiguity was summed up by Roddick's words after a 59-minute demolition by Andy Murray in the semifinals at Queen's. "It certainly does nothing to my confidence level going into Wimbledon," Roddick said.
Roddick meant that Murray had simply played too well for the result to mean much. True, to an extent. Just two days later, Murray was the one standing by helplessly as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga dominated the first set of their final. But the Scot managed to turn things around and win the title. But Roddick, who watched Murray out-slice, out-maneuver and, yes, out-serve him certainly won't have done anything for the American's confidence going into Wimbledon. Roddick converted more than 80 percent of his first serves during the match, a stellar number, yet by the end of the match he was quipping "keep it social," as Murray sent a particularly vicious return rifling past him.
By his own estimation, he remains one of the "two hands' worth" of players who are truly comfortable on grass. But two years removed from his thrilling Wimbledon final against Federer, is Roddick still a potential title threat?
The big four of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Murray loom so large these days that few are expected to have a look in, though Roddick is at or near the top of the list of outsiders. The once-crushing power looks more medium-sized every year, but Roddick's serve still does a lot of work for him on the grass, and his slice backhand can be an effective weapon on this surface. With grass-court matches dependent on taking advantage of brief windows of opportunity, this competitive skills and experience are also an advantage against much of the field. But a lot has to go right to reach the semifinals, and even more to make it any further. And a tricky draw could easily spell an early exit.
But more generally, what Roddick will be searching for during Wimbledon and the upcoming summer is affirmation -- that he can still beat the best, still threaten at the biggest events. The 2009 Wimbledon final served as that two years ago, and last year it was the title in Miami title, beating Nadal along the way. Roddick is still searching for that affirming result this year. After a good, but not great, start to the season, he battled illness in Memphis, foot problems in Miami, the usual "clayitis" in the spring and a shoulder problem that prompted him to pull out of the French Open. Add to that last year's mononucleosis and thigh injury during the fall, and it has been a trying time.
So all in all, he's quite happy just to be healthy and in a position to make a run. "I felt really good when I got here, but after having not played well for two months or so, getting that to translate wasn't always an easy thing," he told reporters last week. "Got four matches, which is really important, and I feel prepared going into the practice week for Wimbledon."
The injury setbacks do at least mean that he is arriving at Wimbledon with less pressure than usual and a lot fresher than most of the field, particularly the top four, who all made the semifinals of the French Open. That, plus the quicker, low-bouncing courts, means that this may be his best chance of making an impression on a big occasion this season.
"I think grass is my favorite surface just because we never get to play on it. So I really, you know, enjoy when we do," he said. "I enjoy the city that the grass courts are in. You know, I think all that makes it probably one of my favorite months of the year being over here."
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Having played the main draw for a full decade now, he has settled into a routine -- a rented house, familiar restaurants, even a regular cabbie. There has also been some Americanization -- Wimbledon now has a Starbucks and a Whole Foods, and a lot more U.S. programming on television than there was during Roddick's debut in 2001.
That year, he was the third-round victim in Goran Ivanisevic's unexpected run to the title. Since then, he has become the new Ivanisevic figure -- a three-time finalist almost as affectionately regarded by the locals as one of their own -- except when playing one of their own. The 28-year-old will begin the tournament without much fanfare, but should he start to make a run, the crowd will quickly get behind him. At least until he runs into Murray again.
Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.
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