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Roddick Loses at Roland Garros
by Steve Flink

Andy Roddick suffered another early exit from Roland Garros.
Although Andy Roddick was surely dismayed by losing his first round match at Roland Garros to Igor Andreev, he will realize when he examines the larger picture that he is better off to be out of the world's premier clay court event and looking ahead. This was his seventh appearance at Roland Garros, and the 24-year-old American has never surpassed his third round showing as a rookie year back in 2001. Since then, Roddick has suffered four first round losses and has bowed out twice in the second round. There is no escaping the fact that clay is simply not his surface.

Roddick was in an advantageous position in his confrontation with Andreev. He took the first set and was serving for a 5-3 lead in the second, but then the No. 3 seed was overtaken by a superior slow court player who picked him apart and found a way to neutralize Roddick's big first serve, which is one of the game's most potent weapons. Once Andreev found the range on his returns, the complexion of the match changed and Roddick could not stay with his persistent adversary in the longer baseline exchanges. Too often Andreev caught Roddick flat-footed, hitting forehand winners almost at will.

Roddick's ground game collapsed when he served the crucial 4-5 game in the second set. He virtually gave that game it away. On the slow red clay of Roland Garros, he was unable to impose himself on the 23-year-old Russian, who was the last player to topple Rafael Nadal on clay before Roger Federer ended the Spaniard's 81 match winning streak on that surface in Hamburg on May 20. Andreev beat Nadal at Valencia, Spain, in 2005.

Let's not forget that Andreev also had a very good win over Roddick in the spring of 2006 at Indian Wells on hard courts, demonstrating that he is not strictly a clay court player. But from Roddick's standpoint, other issues contributed to his defeat. He did not play two of the Masters Series events on the 2007 clay court campaign, skipping Monte Carlo and Hamburg. He lost early in Rome, and then was beaten by Gael Monfils in Austria the week before Roland Garros.

That kind of preparation was hardly a recipe for success in Paris. But it was not simply a lack of confidence coming into the French Open that hurt Roddick. Nor was it his history of setbacks at Roland Garros. This year, his problems may have been compounded by the fact that he has worked so hard since hiring Jimmy Connors as his coach last summer to improve his attacking game. Increasingly under the tutelage of Connors, Roddick has looked for openings to approach the net on faster surfaces. He has become a better and more dangerous player by making a much stronger commitment to attack. And while his low volley remains suspect off either side, his net game has clearly improved overall, primarily through repetition.

On clay, however, Roddick's larger inclination to go forward does not serve him as well. Those who counter-attack well like Andreev have more time to set up their passing shots and a better chance to make the ball dip at Roddick's feet and force the American to play volleys that are too tough. So it may well be that Roddick, who has won four outdoor clay court events in the U.S. and one more in Europe--might not fare as well in the future.

He should not be terribly concerned about that. Roddick had been in a serious tailspin for a while. The man who had finished No. 1 in the world in 2003 slipped briefly out of the world's top ten after a surprise third round loss to Andy Murray at Wimbledon last summer. Connors came to the rescue and Roddick was revitalized in the second half of 2006, winning the Masters Series event in Cincinnati, reaching the final of the U.S. Open, recovering much of his old pride and swagger.
 
He started 2006 with a respectable semifinal showing at the Australian Open before Roger Federer dismissed him comprehensively in straight sets. His results since then have been mediocre. But what really matters to Roddick is to make his presence known in the weeks ahead at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He won his one and only major at the U.S. Open in 2003 and played inspired tennis across the fortnight at Flushing Meadows last summer. In 2004 and 2005, he was runner-up to Federer at Wimbledon. If he is going to make his move again and secure another Grand Slam tournament crown, he must get on the board at Wimbledon or the Open.
Roddick should and surely will forget about his Paris loss in a hurry. This gives him more time to peak for Wimbledon, to get on the grass early and make the transition to grass courts, to be ready and able to peak at the All England Club. Had he won three or four matches in Paris, it would have required hard work, and might have drained him in the process. Now Andy Roddick can get on with his business, try to make the most of his chances at the next two majors, and not worry about what went wrong at Roland Garros.

Steve Flink is a weekly contributor to TennisChannel.com. He will be reporting regularly from Roland Garros.

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