How adversity sharpened Andy's acuity

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Athletes are rarely able to articulate what makes them tick, but on Wednesday evening Andy Roddick offered this small pearl on the subject of being in "the zone":

"Sometimes when you're not playing well, everything feels a little bit forced. When you play a lot of the matches and kind of play a high level, it feels like everything kind of slows down a little bit. Muscle memory takes over a little bit more, and things kind of just happen."

Rest assured, things are kind of just happening these days for Roddick.

He swept into the semifinals of the Sony Ericsson Open with a clean, controlled 6-3, 6-3 victory over Nicolas Almagro. He had only 10 unforced errors, or 52 fewer than Roger Federer produced the night before. In four matches here, Roddick hasn't dropped a set. He's won 37 of 38 service games and has saved nine of 10 break points.

Or, numbers aside, he's in the zone.

Roddick lost to Ivan Ljubicic in the final at Indian Wells, but when Ljubicic lost his first match here, that left Roddick with the best combined effort for the I.W./Miami double-dip so far. He's a tidy 24-4 this year, the highest win and match totals on the ATP World Tour.

"I feel pretty good," he said.

A year ago, the men's draw was as predictable as gravity.

The top six seeds all reached the quarterfinals, and Andy Murray wound up defeating Novak Djokovic here in the final. This year, No. 1-ranked Federer, No. 2 Djokovic and No. 3 Murray were all gone by the quarters.

Roddick was already sleeping when Federer succumbed to Tomas Berdych a few minutes into Wednesday morning.

"I think Roger broke the first game of the match, and I turned it off," Roddick said. "They tell you he lost; obviously you're surprised any time he loses. But that's tennis. That's why you play 'em."

The only quarterfinal repeaters in Miami this year? Rafael Nadal and Roddick.

At age 27, Roddick finds himself the tour's most consistent player and seems destined to finish in the top 10 for a ninth consecutive year. Only Federer can match that. Who ranks No. 3 in titles among active players after Federer and Nadal? Roddick, with 28.

The game is still the same, just a little leaner -- and smarter. Maturity is one of the few advantages of growing older.

"When things aren't going my way, I'm probably better now," Roddick said. "Six years ago, my highs were a lot higher and the lows were a lot lower. Does that make sense? I feel like I've seen most situations."

How about a 30-game fifth set in the Wimbledon final last year? Roddick lost to Federer 16-14 in the final frame, but somehow that defeat defined him as much as his 2003 U.S. Open victory.

That spectacular final seems to have ultimately had a positive effect on Roddick.

"Obviously, I was heartbroken afterwards," he said. "I was almost a point away -- you know, I had break points in the fifth. But at the same time, it was rejuvenating. It was something that I probably needed at that point."

Adversity, especially off the Grand Slam stage, doesn't faze him. Down 1-4 and love-40 on his serve against Benjamin Becker on Tuesday, Roddick came back. Down 4-5, love-30, he started hitting 135 mph serves.

There is only one thing that never fails to get a rise out of Roddick. It's any variation on this question asked last week by Sun-Sentinel writer Harvey Fialkov: You don't want to be considered a one-Slam wonder?

"I have a feeing I know which article you're going to write already," Roddick said. "The story is tired, I think. What was the actual question? Because I heard a lot of statement. The fact of the matter is I've won one Slam. I think a 'wonder' title is more along the lines of someone who won one and went away.

"I'm pretty proud of my career. Obviously, you say, 'Would you like to have won?' I get this. 'Would you like to win more than one Slam?'

"That's just the dumbest question in my life."

Later, less strident, Roddick said, "I'm just kind of elaborating on stuff you hear sometimes. I mean, of course. Would you like the uber-promotion of your dreams? Yes.

"But it's a process to get there, and it's something I'm constantly striving towards."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.