Roddick steadfast to regain form
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- Andy Roddick is only the fourth seed at this week's Delray Beach International Tennis Championships and the third-highest-ranked American player in the world.
But when it comes to American tennis, Roddick's current No. 30 ranking -- the lowest ranking he's had since he was last No. 30 on Aug. 13, 2001 -- is not an indication of his star status.
Roddick, the lone Grand Slam champion of this generation of American players, is the most illustrious player in the 32-man field at Delray Beach. His achievements, and fan base, outweigh top seed and fellow American John Isner (ranked No. 11), second seed Marin Cilic of Croatia (ranked No. 21) and third seed Viktor Troicki of Serbia (ranked No. 22).
Certainly, the packed house Tuesday night at the tournament substantiated Roddick's stature. It doesn't hurt that local fans consider Roddick their own. He lived most of his childhood (and until 2003) down the road in Boca Raton.
Even Isner, the top seed this week, knows why it's all about Roddick.
"I'm ranked ahead of Andy right now, but I mean, he's a huge draw -- he's Andy Roddick," Isner said. "He's been in the top 10 forever. I think the name Andy Roddick carries a little more weight than my name still. Hopefully, I can try to change that in the coming years, but Andy's still the guy."
However, if it was up to Roddick, who is dealing with right-hamstring and right-ankle injuries this year, trading places with Isner on the popularity scale would be ideal -- at least for the moment.
In all likelihood, Roddick had that on his mind as he dropped the first set of his opening match on Tuesday night. He rebounded to work out a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 win over Philipp Petzschner. Roddick is now 3-3 on the year.
"I'm in a very fortunate position," said Roddick, acknowledging his tennis fame. "Unfortunately, [because of that] I can't be on the back courts to work my way back through a tournament, which is what I would love to do right now."
Patience is not a virtue Roddick easily embraces, but while he would like to rush a turnaround, he is trying to take it step by step. Prior to playing Petzschner, Roddick had one immediate goal in mind.
"Right now I just want to feel like a tennis player again," Roddick said. "That's my first thing. Walking into a tournament, playing a match and having it be second nature and not having it be a thing that happens once every month."
His return to Delray Beach for the first time since 2003 -- tour scheduling and a full commitment to Davis Cup kept him away, which made him feel a bit "guilty" -- has allowed him a reality check regarding how much he's achieved. The local teen on the scene in 2000, the then-17-year-old Roddick played his first ATP tour-level match at Delray Beach -- a match he lost.
"I had these dreams [back then] that you never think you'll be able to reach out and touch, and I've gotten to do a lot of them," Roddick said. "At that point I was wondering, would I ever be good enough to make a living at it?"
He now knows he was more than good enough. But at the moment, he's frustrated with how things are going. His longtime coach, Larry Stefanki, keeps telling him not to be so anxious.
"He's always had a fast start and it hasn't happened this year," Stefanki said. "But as I keep telling him, it's about the whole year and not the first two months of the year. He needs not to think that if every single match doesn't go according to plan it's a catastrophe."
Current U.S. Davis Cup captain Jim Courier told Roddick last year that for his own good he needs to take things more carefully. Courier would know. He overtrained, which resulted in his having a dead arm and a shorter career.
Stefanki said Courier's conversation helped Roddick change his perspective.
"Courier's a voice of experience, one that's been there," Stefanki said. "They're very similar personalities: high intensity, high rev. If it's not going well, let's work four times harder and my whole body breaks down. If you're doing all the training and you can't play, what's the point?"
Former ATP World Tour physiotherapist Bill Norris knows Roddick from his junior days. He's confident that Roddick is in good hands to heal from his injuries with personal physiotherapist Doug Spreen, who Norris hired as an ATP trainer years ago.
"Anything like that needs rest," Norris said. "The great thing about Doug is he will exhaust all means of treatment. He's Andy's advocate and Andy's in a good place with Doug."
At 29, Roddick knows time is at a premium. But he's convinced that if he can stay healthy and catch on fire, there still could be success ahead. He also understands that right now he's not playing well enough to challenge Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray.
"Everybody's definition of playing fabulous [is different]," Roddick said. "I have a long way to go to the way those guys are playing at the top four. That's just being real. That being said, do I think I can get hot and serve my way deep into a Slam? Yeah, I do. All you want is a chance, and I certainly think that's a realistic possibility."
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Roddick's career has mimicked that of Michael Chang, who also won his lone Grand Slam title early in his career (1989 French Open) and then reached three additional finals at the major. Roddick won the 2003 U.S. Open and, thus far, has reached four additional Grand Slam finals.
"I know Andy wants to do well and he wants to accomplish a little bit more; you can kind of sense that," said Chang, who came in third at the Delray Beach ATP Champions Tour event this week. "He's trying to make one last push. I think he should be pretty content, because how many people can say they've won a Grand Slam and became No. 1," Chang added. "And, who knows, maybe if he makes a good push he can sneak in one more [Grand Slam win]."
Stefanki, however doesn't want Roddick to think that far ahead. His message was to concentrate on Delray Beach and worry about the future afterward. "Hopefully this will ignite 2012, this tournament here, and that's the plan," Stefanki said. The other is old news, excess baggage; it's negative news."
Roddick, though, is beginning to take his talents elsewhere.
Always an opinionated guy, he's now hitting the airwaves. Along with good friend Bobby Bones, a morning radio guy in Austin, Texas, the two have a nationally syndicated radio show on Saturday afternoons -- sports, pop culture and entertainment are all on the table.
What if his game picks up and he starts playing on the weekends?
"It's a win-win," Roddick said, smiling. "I'm contracted for so many weeks out of a year, so that allows me for about 18 semifinals. Hopefully, that will be OK."
Sandra Harwitt is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.