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Andy Roddick: The Road Ahead

Finals 2007

Andy Roddick© Getty ImagesAndy Roddick looks forward to challenging for the top spot again.

As he arrives this week in Shanghai for the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup, Andy Roddick might well take heed of an ancient Chinese proverb: May you live in interesting times .

While some view these words as a blessing, others regard them as a curse. For the 25-year-old Roddick, a former World No. 1 seeking yet more Grand Slam glory and a return to tennis' pinnacle, the challenge of sorting out the positive from the negative will likely define the balance of his career. Well aware of this, Roddick is determined to face whatever comes his way. "I'm not going to run and hide because I'm catching some heat," he says. "I'm not going to stay at home and pout."

In the fast-paced world of contemporary tennis, the depth and variety of the ATP tour makes life increasingly competitive for the ambitious Roddick. While Roger Federer's dominance sets the tune, Roddick also must grapple with stellar competitors Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, as well as such rough customers as Nikolay Davydenko, David Ferrer and a host of peers boasting an exceptionally wide range of skills.

"It's an incredible period in tennis for a man like Roddick," says ESPN analyst Cliff Drysdale. "He's living with the greatest player who ever held a racquet in Federer, and the greatest who ever played on clay in Nadal. It's a remarkable era we're in right now."

So where does Roddick fit in? In large part, he stands at the crossroads. Consistent enough to have qualified for this event for the fifth straight year, Roddick now is very much a rebuilt work in progress. After all, it was less than 18 months ago that he tumbled out of Wimbledon in the third round, looking exceptionally passive in losing to Andy Murray and briefly falling out of the Top 10.

Shortly after that, Roddick began working with the legendary Jimmy Connors. It has been a unique partnership. Most coach-player relationships revolve around the coach learning to see the world through the player's eyes and then subtly providing guidance.

Roddick and Connors have turned that on its head. The implicit message of having someone like Connors in his corner is this simple: Andy, you must see the world through my eyes.

As U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe says, "Jimmy made every shot count. He knew so much about weight transfer, about driving your legs through the ball, about court positioning. You could see all of this making an impact on Andy's game very quickly. Were there other people who knew these things? Probably. But maybe it took someone who's done more than Andy has to get him to listen."

Roddick's run to the 2006 U.S. Open final final less than two months after he started with Connors validated that the partnership could work. And a year ago here in Shanghai he held match points against Federer.

But 2007 has been beguiling -- or, perhaps, merely a campaign built on transition and refinement. This year Roddick has earned but two titles, has a 3-5 match record against fellow Top 10 players and failed to reach a Grand Slam final for the first time since 2002. And beyond these mere facts, even Roddick admitted that his loss from two sets to love and 4-2 up in the third set in the Wimbledon quarterfinals versus Richard Gasquet will haunt him for some time.

But there have also been encouraging signs. Roddick beat rough customers Mario Ancic and Marat Safin on his way to the Australian Open semifinals. There he lost to Federer in a match that surely ranks as one of the Swiss' finest displays.

At the end of the 2007 Grand Slam season, Roddick played excellent tennis to make it to the last eight of the U.S. Open, where once again he encountered Federer. Throwing himself mightily into the first two sets, Roddick lost each in tie-breaks before going down in the third 6-2. As ESPN analyst Mary Carillo said, "He'd have beaten anyone else that night." Says Roddick, "It's frustrating. I'm just getting stuck against the guy who's staking his claim to being the best ever. You think about that sometimes -- that you're getting better, but so is he."

Roddick figures to bring his all to Shanghai. Having only played one tournament match since the U.S. Open, he might well be less tournament tough than desired, but he's also rested, hungry and well aware that both this event and another at month's end are exceptionally important.

Shortly after the Tennis Masters Cup's conclusion, Roddick will head to Portland, Oregon to prepare for the Davis Cup final - a competition he takes even more seriously than the Grand Slams.

Fifteen years ago, the 10-year-old Roddick attended the Davis Cup final when it was held in Fort Worth, Texas. Seeing big-time tennis up close only motivated him further. Now, with the U.S. hosting the final for the first time since that 1992 tie, Roddick is eager to bring the precious cup back to American soil after a 12-year exile. "He's been our leader for so many years," says McEnroe. "I think he can taste it."

Yet driven as Roddick is, he's aware that earning a living as a tennis pro is rare and odd. "Being famous never feels normal," he says. "I don't know if it will ever become normal." But he also recognizes that his wealth and fame can do more than get him a big TV to watch his beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers, a good seat at Miami Heat games or create friendships with the likes of his fellow Austin, Texas resident, Lance Armstrong.

"When I first turned pro I had all these questions I would ask guys constantly," says Roddick. "One thing I did was ask Andre [Agassi] what he regretted. Of course I figured he'd say something about tennis, but instead he said he wished he'd started his foundation even earlier." From the get-go, the Andy Roddick Foundation has been one of his major priorities. Roddick's own events and those he participates in raise millions for children that are abused, neglected, at risk and with catastrophic illnesses.

For all that perspective, though, Roddick knows he must press forward and continue working on his game, whether it be sharpening his backhand or improving his transition game. "I like how much he's working to overcome his limitations," says Drysdale. "He's always battling, always committed."

Never was Roddick's spirit more vivid than in the wake of his loss to Federer at the U.S. Open. True to the feisty manner of Connors, Roddick came away from that effort with a spectrum of feelings. On the one hand, he was bitterly disappointed, to the point where his profanity lit up the locker room immediately afterwards. On the other, Roddick was aware that he had fulfilled tennis' most important mission: giving everything he had. "I'm not walking off with any questions in my head this time. I'm not walking with my head down. I played my ass off out there tonight. I played the right way."

What the future holds for Andy Roddick is uncertain. What's crystal clear is that he'll leave nothing on the table. If Roddick has his way, the times will indeed get even more interesting. A man this restless wouldn't have it any other way.

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