Andy Roddick's fighting spirit could help him challenge for title

The last man not named Roger Federer to win the U.S. Open tennis tournament is Andy Roddick. If the next man to win the Open is named Andy Roddick, it will be an upset but maybe not a surprise.

The Open begins Monday with Federer the top-seeded player and winner this year of the French Open and Wimbledon. The 28-year-old from Switzerland is a new father of twin girls, owner of the most major tournament titles in history (15) and there is no reason to believe he won't become the first man since Bill Tilden to win six straight U.S. Opens.

Is there?

Federer's archrival over the last three years, Rafael Nadal, is trying to recover from knee tendinitis that kept him sidelined at Wimbledon and took his ranking from No. 1 to No. 3. The Open's second-seeded player, Scotland's Andy Murray, has not won a major title yet. Novak Djokovic, the fourth-seeded player, hasn't been past the quarterfinals of any major in 2009.

And then there is the fifth-seeded man, Roddick.

Andre Agassi, who will be honored at the Open on Monday night, was caught up by the Wimbledon final.

"The way he represented himself against Roger," Agassi said, "that proved to me Andy is one of the best competitors ever."

After pushing Federer to a rousing five sets of memorable tennis, Roddick lost, 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14.

In the process, Roddick, who turns 27 today, earned favorable reviews for both his evolving game and his fighting spirit. Roddick proved he was capable of pushing Federer to great limits -- which was a triumph -- but the match could have destroyed that fighting spirit. It didn't. Roddick's game did not crumble in front of Federer, though ultimately Roddick couldn't win either.

Roddick is hardly the only challenger to Federer. Murray enjoys playing on hard courts and has found his stride this summer. Nadal has been Federer's main nemesis through the 2009 Australian Open when Nadal's win in the finals left Federer in tears. But the Spaniard is slowed not only by his sore knees but also a painful abdominal muscle that hampered him in his last tournament.

Agassi knows a little bit about overcoming crushing defeats. In the summer of 1995, Agassi carried a hard-court 26-match winning streak into the Open and played a final against his major rival, Pete Sampras.

Like Roddick did at Wimbledon, Agassi played a passionate final, but in the end, Sampras was the winner, 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5. On that U.S. Open court that night, Agassi's shoulders slumped. Soon, Agassi dropped away from the top level of the sport, eventually falling to a ranking of No. 141 before coming back in 1998 to win his first French Open title and reach the pinnacle of the sport again.

"Every moment on the court can be our finest or our darkest," Agassi said. "It depends on how we treat it. I think Andy can find a lot of reasons to look at that Wimbledon final and make himself better.

"His class that day left an indelible mark on me. I think he proved to himself he deserves to win and that has to be an asset moving forward. It's kind of a Catch-22 in that it's hard to believe you can do something if you don't do it, but Andy should believe in himself after Wimbledon."

Roddick seems to have put the sadness of the defeat behind him. During a tournament in Cincinnati two weeks ago, Roddick answered a question about his leftover Wimbledon emotions and possible regret with a touch of humor.

"I've not been a lot of things during my career," Roddick said, "but I have been extremely resilient. . . . If we're being honest my worst day is playing one of the greatest Wimbledon finals, it's a pretty good worst day."

Sampras, who was at the Wimbledon final both to cheer for Roddick and to congratulate Federer, whose victory gave him one more major than Sampras and the most in tennis history, said the way Roddick lost in London was "as brutal as a loss could ever be."

But like Agassi, Sampras said that both the beauty and the difficulty in tennis is the loneliness of emotions.

"After a loss like that it's hard to talk to anybody," Sampras said, "and you can't let yourself dwell on anything. You can't second-guess yourself. Maybe replay it for a week or so then get over it."

John McEnroe, who memorably lost an emotional 1980 Wimbledon final to Bjorn Borg, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16), 8-6, said Roddick's fighting spirit at Wimbledon is going to turn out well for him in New York.

"That was the best match I've ever seen Andy play," McEnroe said. "That Borg match made me a hungrier player because what stayed with me was that fourth set. I came away from that match believing I could beat Borg and I'm seeing firsthand that Andy is a hungrier player. He's also getting a lot more respect in the locker room. Players, fans, everywhere he's getting more positive vibes."

Agassi said that after losing that emotional U.S. Open final to Sampras he gained support from fans unlike anything he had known.

"I think maybe people began appreciating the way I went about my career, especially when I came back again," he said. "I think Andy is really going to see that in New York. A lot of people appreciated how he played at Wimbledon."

Also, Roddick's marriage last year to model Brooklyn Decker has given his game a boost, Agassi said. "Andy's been a little bit a different guy with Brooklyn," he said. "Great happiness can make a big difference in your life."

Still, Federer has done nothing this summer to indicate he has lost any edge.

He has traveled to North America for the summer series with his wife and baby daughters. At the Cincinnati Masters Series event last week, Federer beat Murray in straight sets in the semifinals and did the same to Djokovic in the finals.

Meanwhile, Roddick has lost twice to 20-year-old Argentine Juan Martin del Potro this summer and once to on-the-rise 21-year-old Sam Querrey of Thousand Oaks. But Roddick still has a sense of humor.

While appearing on David Letterman's late-night talk show Thursday, Letterman congratulated Roddick on his Wimbledon effort against Federer. Roddick turned the praise into a joke about his 2-19 career record against the world's best player. "Yeah, I'm in his head now," Roddick said.

Not yet.


For The Record Los Angeles Times Tuesday, September 01, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction Tennis: An article in Sunday's Sports section on the men's draw at the U.S. Open said Andre Agassi won the French Open in 1998. He won it in 1999. For The Record Los Angeles Times Sunday, September 06, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 0 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction Tennis: A Sports article Aug. 30 on the men's draw at the U.S. Open said Andre Agassi won the French Open in 1998. He won it in 1999.
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