I just watched Andy Roddick win his second round match 7-6, 6-4 at Western & Southern Financial Group Masters event in Mason, OH. Although Roddick’s ranking has slipped out of the top ten for the first time in years, the match was about what you would expect against the likes of 50th ranked Dutch player Thiemo De Bakker.
Click photo: Roddick talks about his recent bout with mononucleosis and the state of his overall health.
Roddick dominated on his serve, never facing a single break point. After taking care of his service games, Roddick simply waited for De Bakker’s nerves to kick in. It took quite a while for that to happen, as De Bakker held his own serve and took Roddick to a tie-breaker. But at 4-5 in the tie-break, De Bakker did get shaky, making a bad unforced error. His confidence shot, he let Roddick’s passing shot go by for a winner and the set.
What wasn’t clear about Roddick’s second round victory was how he was going to take his game, especially after his recent announcement that he’s been suffering from mononucleosis, to a higher level. A high enough level to beat his next opponent, #5 in the world Robin Soderling (who was to beat Lleyton Hewitt later that night). At the press conference after the match, Roddick talked about his mono and didn’t exactly exude confidence about the challenges ahead.
So I returned to my hotel room pondering how to assess Roddick’s state of mind and his chances in the remaining rounds for this tournament, for the upcoming U.S Open, and well, for the remainder of his career.
He has been working with Larry Stefanki (one of the most highly respected tennis coaches) for more than two years. He has improved his fitness (ignoring the mono issue) and his court positioning and tactics have shown intermittent signs of improvement also. At the same time, while it seems clear he could get back his top ten status, it doesn’t seem likely to me he can reenter the top five.
Terrell Owens and Larry Stefanki, a team of rivals?
A Team of Rivals?
I’ve also been wondering why he’s been hanging out with Terrell Owens (TO), star NFL receiver. Although one of the best players in the league, Owens was once described by his teammates as a cancer, and he’s been traded away repeatedly despite his talents. What was Andy getting out of the TO relationship that was helping his career?
But as I thought back to the press conference, it all became very clear. What struck me listening to Roddick earlier was how much he had grown up, how articulate he has become, how statesman-like.
So what do statesmen do these days? They follow the strategy of Abraham Lincoln described in Doris Kearns’ book, “Team of Rivals.” Smart statesmen like Barak Obama assemble a team of rivals, a team of seeming opposites (like hiring rival Hillary Clinton as your Secretary of State). And who could be more opposite than Terrell Owens (TO) and Larry Stefanki?
So here is my imaginary conversation between Andy Roddick’s “Team of Rivals,” Terrell Owens and Larry Stefanki, before Andy Roddick returns to the hotel after his 2nd round win over Thiemo De Bakker at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters.
Stefanki: You ready to break down the match before Andy gets back?
TO: Yeah, but before we do that, can I ask what’s that you’re drinkin’?
Stefanki. Ice tea….decaf.
Marcel Rios fired Stefanki after he reached number one in the world, saying, he wanted “to go
TO (smiling): Is that doin’ it for you?
Stefanki: You know, having a little trouble sleeping lately. Andy’s dropped from the top ten and you heard him tonight at the press conference, this mono bug has got him worried.
TO: Yeah, I heard him. Our boy’s a little down. But that doesn’t mean you have to be drinkin’ DEcaffeinated ice tea….what, you worried he’s going to pull a Rios on you?
Stefanki (shaking his head): You know about Marcel Rios? Man, you’re knowledge of tennis amazes me sometimes.
TO: TO knows, man….and he KNOWS Andy’s no stoner Chilean freak…so relax, man.
Stefanki: Thanks, TO…hey, what’s that you’re drinking?
TO: Red Bull with three fingers of Ketel One.
Stefanki: Isn’t this pre-season…aren’t you in training?
TO (smiling): Yeah, ain’t it cool?
Stefanki: So can we get back to Andy? What did you think about tonight? I thought he played it about right. Didn’t give De Bakker a look at a break, and played the percentages.
TO (not smiling): Yeah, Larry, you goin’ to break out the chalkboard now?
Stefanki: What’s the problem, TO?
TO: The problem, Larry, is that s&%# works against a Thiemo De Bakker. What is he ranked? 8000 in the world? His mother hasn’t even heard of the guy. The next round is Soderling, and that’s a whole new ball game.
Stefanki: Yeah, he’ll have to step up.
TO: Step up? You better believe it. Soderling’s got firepower, and he don’t take nothin’ from no one. Man, he even dissed Rafa. Could be more hated in the locker room than TO!
Stefanki: Is that even possible?...but I get your point. So what do I tell Andy?
TO: Well, start by tellin’ him not to take his backhand approaches crosscourt? Can we start there, Mr. X and O?
Stefanki: I’ve been telling him that for months.
Click photo: Roddick habitually pulls his approaches crosscourt and it ususally gets him in trouble.
TO (snorting): Tellin’ him! You seein’ how Sister Palin does it now? Write that s&%# on his hand if you have to!
Stefanki: Okay, okay, we’ll work on it. What else?
TO: What else, what else? You’re always thinkin’ what else!
Stefanki: Okay, TO, what are YOU going to say to Andy when he gets back?
TO: I’m not tellin’ him anything. I’m turnin’ on “Top Gun” and we’ll kick back.
Stefanki: That’s great TO, and how’s that going to take Andy to another level?
TO: I’m channelin’ Tom Cruise for Andy…he needs more Maverick in em’ and less, well, less decaf Stefanki.
Stefanki: What’s your point, TO?
TO: My POINT is that Andy has to own that court when he walks out there. You see Rafa bouncing up and down at the net before the match. He’s tellin’ his opponent, I OWN this place! I can stomp on this place! That’s my point, Larry.
Stefanki: You mean like when you were a 49er and kissed the Dallas Cowboys’ home field after scoring a touchdown?
Click photo: Roddick talks about Hewitt and Solderling, potential opponents in the next round (Solderling beat Hewitt 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.)
TO: Exactly! I want to see the old swagger back in Andy. I want him do the upside-down fly-overs 50 feet off the deck! And, I want him to start comin’ in more on his kick second serve!
Stefanki. You think he should be coming in more?
TO: Man, if Stefan Edberg had a kick serve like that in his day, he never would have lost a set!
Stefanki: I have to hand it to you, TO, you know your tennis. But Andy’s just not in comfort zone at the net.
TO: Comfort zone! Comfort zone! What are we talkin’ about here, Larry? He can get comfortable sometime when he’s dead! He’s already out of the top 10. How much more comfortable do you want him to get?
Stefanki: I’m just sayin’.
TO: Well, stop sayin’! What’s good enough to beat De Bakker is NOT good enough to beat Soderling. And it certainly is not good enough to beat Murray, Federer, Djok—how ever the hell you say his name—and Rafa Nadal!
Stefanki: So what?
TO: So break out those X and O’s now. Let’s figure out exactly what’s it goin’ to take. But one thing for sure, whatever we come up with, he’s got to BRING IT when he steps on that court!
Stefanki: Okay, TO, let’s get to work….I have to say, I’m learning a lot working with you.
TO: You’re a smart guy too, Larry.
Stefanki (gesturing to TO’s diamond ear stud): So, you think I should get me one of those?
TO: Not you, Larry. But maybe you could step away from the decaf.
Copyright Notice: The contents of the TennisONE web site and contents forwarded to you by TennisONE are intended for your personal, noncommercial use. Republishing of TennisONE content in any way, including framing or posting of these materials on other Web sites, is strictly prohibited. See our full copyright statement