About four years ago, March Madness did not exist in tennis. In fact, the only madness there was may have been Federer Madness. Back then, heading into Indian Wells and Miami there was an almost guaranteed victor. That hasn’t been the case for a while now but this year was especially different.
Picking up the slack over the years have been the guys ranked right behind Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Andy Murray. And there was Nikolay Davydenko in Miami a few years ago. But this year, Andy Roddick stole the show and he really was only a few points from completing the IW-Miami double. Nonetheless, I’ll bet he’s more than pleased with his current form.
Always a great personality and fan favorite, Roddick has done something truly extraordinary in tennis. At the ripe old age of 26, he revamped his game and almost completely altered his style. Larry Stefanki went as far as to say that Roddick could imitate Andre Agassi and have his best years from 27 onward. Does anyone doubt that? I can certainly believe it.
A playing style is very much related to a player’s mentality. Players can be impatient or too patient and it’s very visible in their game. Roddick started out as an impatient guy who went for broke 10 feet behind the baseline. Then he became to patient and never went for any shots. Now he’s a perfect blend: patient when he has to be but capable of mixing it up and changing the pace. Right after his win over Tomas Berdych in the final, he told Mary Jo Fernandez that what he liked most about his success over the last months is that he was able to win in different ways.
I’ve always said a weak draw that leads to a clash with Rafael Nadal is the worst scenario. You’ll face a bunch of guys who back down the minute things get tense and then you get their polar opposite in Nadal, who never backs down. But Roddick overcame him with some fearsome play. Then he used a completely different approach filled with soft slices and high loopy balls to take down Berdych. I’m sure people will find plenty of ways to criticize Roddick still but you won’t hear any from me about his overall win. The serve was clicking, the forehand was booming, and still his greatest asset was his between his ears. Congratulations, Andy, you really deserve it.
As for the rest of the top guys, “thank God the hard court season is over.” Federer, Murray, and Djokovic really flailed at both events. Djokovic is suffering from never-ending fatigue. Have you ever heard of a player complain about the schedule two months into the season? He’s making it increasingly difficult to even like him with such a poor attitude towards just about everything tennis related.
Murray is still suffering from the Australian Open final and while his play has been unacceptable, that is a legitimate reason. He played arguably the best he’s ever played in reaching that final and nerves and Federer got the best of him. Clay isn’t exactly his best surface but long rallies could give him a chance to get back into high gear and focus on tennis again. And apparently he’s back with his ex-(hot)-girlfriend, Kim Sears, so he’s plenty happy off the court.
Nadal is probably the happiest of all to be back on clay. Despite playing better than the rest of the top four, he lost some heart-breakers since the start of the season. Excluding his loss to Murray at the Australian Open, Nadal has lost three times while leading by a set. Against Davydenko in Doha he dominated the first set and even had match points before being turned away. Against an aging Ivan Ljubicic who had not beaten Nadal in seven years, he controlled much of the match before losing a third set tiebreaker. And against Roddick, he was running the guy around like a puppet before Roddick changed tactics and Nadal had no clue how to handle him. It’s hard to pick against Nadal on clay but I’m curious to see how he deals with someone that will push him on the red surface.
But of course, there were plenty of other players who played awesome tennis in the last month. Robin Soderling reach the semifinals of both Masters events for the first time. He beat several quality players in both events, including Murray, but came out particularly flat against Berdych in Miami. Marcos Baghdatis scored his first win over Federer but disappointed by not progressing further. Berdych got his second win over Federer and did a great job in backing it up before going down to Roddick in the final. I’ve always liked Berdych but he has thoroughly underachieved in his career. Hopefully this is the turnaround and he’ll continue to grow as a legitimate force on the tour.
And, of course, Ljubicic played the best tennis of his career to win his first ever Masters shield. For all the criticism Federer’s generation got for being weak, isn’t it ironic that Ljubicic would win his first Masters during, what should be, the era of transition and the changing of the guard? Either way, he played fantastic tennis to win and that’s all fans can really ask for. Unlike Berdych, Ljubicic is in the twilight of his career and I doubt he’s going to become a slam contendor any time soon, but it was good to see him get this monkey off his back after losing several finals back in his better days.
Whether or not your favorites did as well as you would’ve liked (mine certainly didn’t), March was a great month for tennis. 1) With Roddick doing so well in the States, maybe it’ll be the start of Americans caring about tennis. 2) The quality of play was pretty high throughout both events. Some players hit hot streaks, others were playing like crap, but there was plenty of drama and excitement to go around. Hopefully this will be a continuing trend.
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