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Clouds hang over Roddick and Murray

6/15/2012

Things aren't exactly dandy for the two Andys. I'm talking about Roddick and Murray, who have been reliable performers for years now, despite the long shadows cast by the ruling triumvirate of men's tennis: Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

Let's go with age before, ahem, beauty. Andy Roddick will be 30 by the next time he plays at the only Grand Slam event he's won, the U.S. Open. A former year-end No. 1 and nine-year fixture (until 2011) in the top 10, Roddick is down to No. 32 in the world and, hampered by ankle and hamstring injuries, he's won just seven of 17 singles matches this year.

Roddick had a miserable clay-court swing (if you could call it that). In fact, he hasn't won a match since he surprised everyone with a well-earned, morale-boosting upset of Roger Federer in Miami on March 26. This week Roddick was back on his beloved grass at Queens Club, where he's been champ four times. It proved no safe haven. He lost in the first round and was compelled to ask for (and get) a wild card into next week's Eastbourne event.

Between a rock and a hard place, Roddick is now looking at having to play for close to three straight weeks to get back to the Wimbledon final for the third time in his career. That's a lot of wear and tear on a surface that really stretches the hamstrings and tests, among other things, the ankles. But Roddick has no real choice.

Roddick was treading water, rankings points-wise, in the spring. Last year, he was a semifinalist at Queens and had a third-round showing at Wimbledon. The seedings for Wimbledon will be announced on June 20th, after the next weekly rankings are issued. And the best I can figure, there's a chance Roddick may not be seeded. After playing Federer in three finals, the most recent in 2009, Andy could meet his nemesis in the first round.

Ironically, the player who beat Roddick in that semi at Queens last year was the other Andy.

Andy Murray had a bye at Queens this week, but he lost his first match, too.

Murray's swoon hasn't been nearly as severe as Roddick's. On the other hand, it's more difficult to explain and must set alarm bells ringing in his camp, given that Murray is still just 25. He also has had injury issues, not least of which were the critical remarks made by comeback player Tommy Haas the other day.

Referring to Murray's well-publicized, if not terribly visible, back problems at the French Open, Haas said: "Sometimes he looks like he can barely move, then comes the trainer and he moves like a cat. I believe everyone knows this. People talk about it in the locker room. Maybe he would like to take a little pressure off himself."

Murray is No. 4 in the world, and while he has tormented the Big Three ranked above him and won a handful of prestigious Masters 1000 titles, he's never broken through to win a major (he's been in three finals). Thus, he's often been described as the junior member of the "Big Four." But people are starting to wonder if Murray belongs in that company. Perhaps it's just a "Big Three-And-A-Half." After all, one or another of the other three has won 32 of the last 35 major tournaments.

At 28-6, Murray has a much better 2012 record than the other Andy, but he hasn't made his seed (semifinal or better) since he lost the Miami final to Djokovic. Queens has been just as much of a bellwether tournament for Murray as for Roddick. Murray was the defending champ and won the title two of the last three years. His early exit must be considered ominous.

The two Andys have built excellent records at Wimbledon. Murray's consistent ability to go deep into the second week has been particularly impressive, given the pressure he's under as the great United Kingdom hope. That pressure will only be more intense given that lately his game has been unpredictable, ragged around the edges, and often subject to Murray's sour moods and self-punishing urges.

Murray hasn't asked for a wild card into Eastbourne (yet), so he's likely to have the opposite problem from Roddick. He'll go into Wimbledon with very little match play on grass. The situations of these stalwart Queens veterans are different, but each in his own way is in plenty of trouble.