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Roddick will crawl before he sprints

January 16, 2012 09:17 AM
Andy Roddick will face Dutchman Robin Haase in the first round.
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com

MELBOURNE, Australia
-- Andy Roddick has never been in this position before. Oh, sure, there were years when the American did not come into the Australian Open as a top-five favorite, but he was always seen as a guy who, if he could get on a  roll, would have a good chance of at least reaching the semifinals.

But this year, the former No. 1 is taking a different attitude into a tournament where he has reached the final four on four different occasions. It's going to be baby steps for A-Rod, who spent most of last season struggling with injuries and was unable to playing anywhere near his top level.

He feels fit now, but with only exhibitions matches coming into Melbourne and a brutal draw that sends him out against the powerful Dutchman Robin Haase in the first round, possibly his old rival Lleyton Hewitt of Australia in the second round, maybe Canadian sensation Milos Raonic in round three and, if he gets there, No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the round of 16, he cannot afford to look beyond the first point.

"I'm not 23 anymore, and it's a little more of a process," he said. "What I used to be able to do in three weeks maybe needs six weeks to get the same end result. I didn't feel fit last year. I was 10 or 15 pounds overweight and not strong from the summer on. It's a grind mentally when you go out and you know what you are playing with is less than you have and you have to make the best out of a bad situation. But at last I feel healthy now."

The 28-year-old Roddick's off-season routine has changed a significant amount. When he was 22 or so, he could work all day on court and off, smacking ball after ball, doing sprints and lifting weights without taking a break. Now, he is stretching before he begins his workouts, taking a three-hour midday break, then going back to work but also stretching after his day is done. That adds an hour and a half to his routine and also lengthens his day overall. But he's still putting in massive hours, as the one thing that he can count on is being able to out-work the other players.

"I can't afford not to work," he said. "I don't have the racquet skill of Roger and Rafa and those guys. I've always been able to stay relevant by working. I know what I have to do, and the day I can't work at my trade will be a tough one. Hopefully this process will work."

Roddick chalks up his injuries to over-working. He talked to U.S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier after he hurt his shoulder last summer, and the four-time Grand Slam champion reflected on his own career.

"He said, 'I did what you do, and I was done by 27,'" Roddick said. "That was a pretty good perspective. [My coach Larry Stefanki] thinks the same, and it's a little counter-intuitive for me but probably necessary."

Last year was the first time that Roddick finished a season out of the top 10 since 2002. Still, after he bested Raonic, 7-6 (7), 6-7 (11), 7-5, to win his 30th tour-level title in Memphis, he joined the great Federer as one of the only two active men to win at least one title for 11 straight years.

Roddick is sitting at No. 16 in the rankings, a more than respectable spot for some players, except that former US Open champions and No. 1s are never thrilled when you add another digit to their ranking.

"I didn't think about [not ending 2011 in the top 10] too much because I know if I am healthy and playing well where I should be, but the part that's amusing is it's only a real big story when I am not there."

However, Roddick conceded that people even mentioning it is also a complement that highlights his remarkable consistency.

"It is a little show of respect, and I try to take it that way as much as possible. It is what it is, and I will try and get back to where I want to. Now it's a matter of trying to find a right balance."

Davis Cup warrior Roddick is going to play a more careful schedule this year, and he will play less if he isn't feeling right. He has not reached the semifinals of a major since his thrilling run to the 2009 Wimbledon final, where he went down to Federer 16-14 in the fifth set.

Last year, he fell to Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round of Australia, missed Roland Garros, lost to Feliciano Lopez in the third round of Wimbledon and, after pulling off an incredible win over David Ferrer on Court 13 at the US Open in the fourth round, he was too pooped out to give Rafa Nadal much of a match in the quarterfinals.

Roddick has scored wins over all of the top four of Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Andy Murray, but he's honest enough to say they have put a stranglehold on the majors.

"I think there is a significant divide," Roddick said. "I know Murray hasn't won one, but I think he's a great player. The top four is pretty clear cut. But it's cyclical. A couple years ago it was only two guys, and now it's four guys. Can it be six guys? Sure. Can it go back to two? Sure. After '06, I was not one of the guys, and then for an eight-month stretch in '09, I was one of the guys. I think guys can come in and out, but as we stand, those are the four best."

Last year in Melbourne, Roddick bested Haase in four sets before the Dutchman wore down. This year, the American will go into the match knowing how he has to play him but perhaps wondering whether he'll be able to reach that level quickly enough. But if he can lock into his 2009 form sometime during the first week, he'll be a threat once again.

"I want to play well and feel like I can go out and do what I do, and if I lose, then fine," Roddick said. "I just want to get into a flow. I can't even remember the last time I played three weeks in a  row. I want to handle that stuff, and hopefully it will lead to something better. I don't want to jump from crawling to sprinting because it's a process, but a lot of times you go through the process, and all of a sudden you are in the semis of a Slam. I think that's a possibility."


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