Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Updated: January 18, 9:11 AM ET
Renewal of the Roddick-Hewitt rivalry
By Ravi Ubha
MELBOURNE, Australia -- In an informal chat with reporters on the eve of the Australian Open, Andy Roddick wanted to make one thing clear: He'll be his own man this season. If he's not fit enough, he won't try to play banged up.
After a clean bill of health for most of his career, Roddick, approaching 30, has routinely suffered injuries or sickness the past two years, the major reason his ranking has dipped outside the elite top 10. He knows now that forcing the issue and competing at less than 100 percent only makes things worse.
"After 700 to 800 odd matches, I think I've earned the right to make my own decisions," Roddick, the 15th seed, said. "I feel like I know enough about tennis where I don't need someone making a scheduling decision for me.
"I had a conversation with [U.S. Davis Cup captain] Jim Courier last year after I got hurt, and basically the gist of it is that he said, 'You have to chill out a little bit. I did what you do and I was done by 27.' That was pretty good perspective."
The days of Roddick piling on tournaments, he said, are long gone, even if his body is feeling good. If that means not showing up at an event or two, so be it. He's enrolled in the Roger Federer school of scheduling.
"Roger's really not scared of a zero-pointer," Roddick said. "I don't think I'm going to worry about mandatory or nonmandatory. I think you take your lumps and play your best schedule."
For now, Roddick's task is to prepare for an encounter with a familiar and similar adversary, Lleyton Hewitt. Their second-round match Thursday is the pick of the bunch in Melbourne, and it follows another U.S.-Aussie battle, Wednesday's clash between Sam Querrey and precocious, crafty teen Bernard Tomic.
Roddick and Hewitt both went full-time on the tour in their teens, have made the most out of their careers -- each reaching No. 1 -- and matured as the years progressed. They remain fierce competitors. Even though Hewitt doesn't possess a massive weapon, he's bagged two majors, one more than Roddick.
The 30-year-old Hewitt has undergone multiple hip surgeries, and his latest issue revolves around his toe. All the inactivity led to the drop-off in his ranking, where he's fallen to almost 200th in the world. And Tomic has unseated him as the domestic No. 1. Roddick, though, isn't silly enough to think that will diminish the threat he poses, especially since Hewitt is playing on his home soil. Unlike fellow Aussie Samantha Stosur, who crumbles under the pressure of her home Slam, Hewitt feeds off the crowd here.
As expected, Roddick and Hewitt praised each other Tuesday after first-round wins over Robin Haase and Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, respectively. Somewhat surprisingly, Hewitt had a tougher time with the free-swinging Stebe in the night session than Roddick did against the flashy Haase hours earlier. Hewitt rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the fourth set to prevent a winner-take-all fifth. The match lasted four hours.
"I have as much respect for him as I do for anybody in the game, how he goes about his business, how professional he is," Roddick said. "He's a fighter."
"He's an all-court player," Hewitt countered. "He's probably added to his net game a little bit more since the first time I played him, whatever it was, when he was 19, 20, whatever it was. He's a complete player."
Their head-to-head record is misleading. Roddick owns a 7-6 advantage -- but he's won six in a row. Yet that doesn't tell the entire story, either. The past four have been tight: They went the distance at Wimbledon and in Memphis twice, with Roddick edging Hewitt in a pair of tiebreakers at Queen's. Roddick's ability to win more free points on his serve, perhaps, has made the difference.
"We always have a bit of a war," Roddick said. "I probably don't see it being any different."
Hewitt doesn't mind playing at night again, so long as he sticks to the opening slot. (The men preceded the women the first three days.) He still remembers finishing past 4:30 a.m. local time against Marcos Baghdatis in 2008, a match that was pushed back because of Federer's marathon five-setter against Janko Tipsarevic and Venus Williams' tussle with Sania Mirza.
"I don't really want to have too many of the Baghdatis matches again," said Hewitt. "Go home and McDonald's is already open on the way home for breakfast. Yeah, it's nice. The girls can do that for a change."
Prediction: Roddick in four.
Is Dokic poised to make another deep run at the Australian Open now that she has reconciled with her controversial father? Dokic claims she's happier than she's been for a while. How the locals would love it, given Stosur, their top female hope, disintegrated in the first round Tuesday.
Dokic began with a comprehensive 6-2, 6-1 win over Anna Chakvetadze (another sad case).
"I've been practicing really, really good and also playing points in practice really good, just focusing out on the match court just like I am in practice," Dokic said in a press conference.
But Bartoli is coming off the most consistent year of her career -- and thumped Dokic last week in Sydney.
Prediction: Bartoli in two.
Stephens, 18, says U.S. tennis fans shouldn't worry when the Williams sisters stop playing.
"There'll be someone else to take their spot," she said.
Stephens can generate a few headlines of her own by upsetting Kuznetsova, who was her usual self in the first round. The two-time Grand Slam champion labored against Chanelle Scheepers before pulling away in the third.
Prediction: Kuznetsova in three.
|Andy Roddick says from here on out, he's doing things his way. |
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.