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Monday, July 23, 2012
Did Roddick hurt his Olympic hopes?


There's good news for Andy Roddick and his fans today: 29 years old and in serious need of confidence with the Olympic Games approaching, the former U.S. Open champion and No. 1 player won his second title of the year Sunday in Atlanta.

There's bad news for Roddick and his fans today: Atlanta is a hard- court tournament, and the Olympic tennis event will be played at Wimbledon on grass. If you're the pessimistic sort, you might also be interested to know that the Olympic tennis event begins next Saturday, and there is all kinds of hoopla before then, including that ultimate feel-good extravaganza, the opening ceremonies.

You know, they'll unveil an utterly anodyne theme song for this London Olympics. We'll hear the dulcet strains of "the largest harmonically tuned bell in Europe." I imagine we'll see a pile of people marching around outrageously costumed in powdered wigs or on stilts, not to mention "real farmyard animals" (what did they do, invite the Baltimore Ravens?), and then we'll see the parade of competitors, in which I assume Roddick will be marching, all decked out in his official Ralph Lauren U.S. team uniform.

All that's well and good but kind of distracting. And none of it leaves Roddick, who struggled with hamstring and ankle injuries earlier this year, much time to prepare for what may be his last best chance to walk away from Wimbledon a champion.

It's not like Roddick has disgraced himself at the All England Club. His record is exceptional. He may not be the best player never to have won Wimbledon (there are guys out there named Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Pat Rafter and Jim Courier), but he's the best grass-court player who has never closed the deal at the AEC.

Roddick has been in three Wimbledon finals and a semi. He lost to the same guy in every one of those matches, Roger Federer. You know, the Swiss guy who's won a mere seven titles. And we all know the history of that 2009 Wimbledon -- the one in which Federer mastered Roddick 16-14 in what was then the longest fifth set in Wimbledon history.

Given the setbacks Roddick has endured, pundits leaped on his third-round loss to David Ferrer at Wimbledon a few weeks ago to speculate on whether he'll be back in a year's time to take one more shot at the title he so coveted. It was a silly conjecture, given that Roddick would be back at Wimbledon in barely two weeks. True, he won't be contending for a Wimbledon singles title. But I'll bet an Olympic gold medal minted on those grass courts would qualify as a pretty appealing next best thing.

All of this makes me wonder why Roddick chose to play in Atlanta last week, on another continent and another surface. Granted, he's a loyal as well as patriotic kind of guy, and the Atlanta tournament has become something like the unofficial U.S. national championships. The U.S. Open may seem a bridge too far (and I'm not talking about the Triborough or Brooklyn ones) in the era of the big three, but Roddick, Mardy Fish, John Isner et al habitually convene in Atlanta to slug it out for the bragging rights on home soil. The handsome appearance fees they earn for so doing doesn't dampen their enthusiasm for this image-boosting exercise, either.

But it's hard to imagine that the dividends of a win in humid, hot Atlanta outweigh the disadvantages of getting to London so late. The situation underscores how lucky tennis is to be in the Olympics, but it also gives credence to those who argue that Olympic tennis is a sideshow and too many players just don't care very much about it. How many track or boxing or swimming Olympians were busy at a meet or competition last week?

Maybe the change of scenery after another dispiriting loss at Wimbledon did Roddick some good; perhaps the benefits of those three solid weeks in England up to and including Wimbledon didn't melt away after a relatively long period at home.

The win in Atlanta surely felt fine. Roddick will be the first to tell you they all do. "I've won 32 [tournaments] now, and every one of them, I've never assumed I was going to win again," he said Sunday.

But you have to wonder if Roddick isn't paying for that win and the rewards it brought him in gold.