Commentary

Extra work paying off for Roddick

Updated: June 28, 2012, 5:07 PM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- Desperate times call for desperate measures. That's how Andy Roddick put it.

After losing six matches in a row, which had never happened in his pro career, Roddick did something unusual: He played a warm-up event a week before Wimbledon in an effort to end his frustrating skid.

Ten years ago was the last time that happened.

"Felt like it was needed," said Roddick, who beat Bjorn Phau in straight sets Thursday to reach the third round at the All England Club.

[+] EnlargeAndy Roddick
AP Photo/Kirsty WigglesworthAndy Roddick likely won't reach a Wimbledon final this year, but his confidence is growing by the day.

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray won't enter tournaments the week before majors. They're content to show up early and practice at the Slam in question or compete in exhibitions -- or both.

But unlike the elite four, the American, who's closing in on 30 years old, isn't considered a contender this year. Roddick, a former U.S. Open winner and top-ranked player, didn't let pride and reputation get in the way of competing in humble little Eastbourne, England. The city by the sea is better known for its women's event.

As he said Wednesday, after completing a rain-delayed second-round straight-sets victory against Jamie Baker, it all worked out perfectly. He won the tune-up event, his 12th straight season with a title, matching a current streak that only Federer has equaled. In the process, Roddick became the 19th player to collect 600 career wins in the Open era. Although winning a second major still seems unreasonable, reaching the second week and a possible quarterfinal isn't. Roddick could also very well be the last American man standing at SW19.

"I took a sharp turn around a corner last week," Roddick said. "It was pretty horrendous going in, and coming out it was pretty good. Kind of got through the final pretty straight forward, so that was nice. I'm probably playing better than the last two years [at Wimbledon]."

The draw gods have helped.

Baker has surfaced in the main draw at a Grand Slam outside Wimbledon only once. The beneficiary of repeated wild cards from the All England Club, he's 0-5 in southwest London.

And Phau is less of a journeyman than Baker, but the diminutive 32-year-old hasn't found himself in the third round of a Grand Slam. As temperatures soared into the 80s, Roddick advanced 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-3. Roddick also produced a highlight-worthy, Boris Becker-like drop-volley winner in the win.

Next up for Roddick is David Ferrer. And as gutsy as he is, Ferrer is not the worst matchup. Ferrer, who also won a Wimbledon warm-up last weekend, is still waiting to appear in his first Wimbledon quarterfinal. Roddick beat Ferrer last year in the fourth round of the U.S. Open, where court issues memorably forced the duo to move to modest Court 13.

"I think it will be a high level," Roddick said. "You have to play well to beat David. He just doesn't give you anything. I have a ton of respect for him, the way he goes about his business, and what he gets out of himself is pretty impressive. I'm going to have to play really well."

Roddick, who received a vociferous round of applause after finishing off Phau, would be a big crowd favorite against Ferrer.

The fans here are pulling for Roddick after his agonizing loss to Federer in the 2009 final, when a missed backhand volley in a second-set tiebreaker cost him dearly. Roddick was sent packing the next year by Yen-Hsun Lu in the round of 16.

If Roddick progresses, his likely fourth-round foe would be Juan Martin del Potro (another U.S. Open winner), who is inexperienced on grass.

"I just can't imagine how difficult it is for him to come back every year after 2009," said Mardy Fish, Roddick's good friend. "We have never really talked about it, because I know how much he wanted to get that second Slam. I know how badly he wanted it to be here and how close he came."

But Roddick has come back to Wimbledon, and for the time being, things are looking up.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.