Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Tuesday Tirade: Something About Andy

by Craig Hickman

On Saturday, Savannah alerted me to an fan discussion about forehands. One fan wanted to know how Roger Federer could go from wielding the best forehand in the game to one that couldn't keep the ball in the court in a short span of three or four months. Another replied with the names Juan Carlos Ferrero and Andy Roddick.

I have only two words to say about Ferrero: Chicken pox.

But the difference between Roddick's forehand and Federer's forehand is that Federer's forehand has always been relatively inconsistent. Back in 2004, he shanked more forehands in his loss to Gustavo Kuerten at Roland Garros than I care to remember. He did the same against Rafael Nadal a year later. Roger was the "dominant world beater" by 2005, and he still couldn't hit a forehand in the court to save his life in that semifinal in Paris. Marat Safin exposed it in Melbourne earlier that year, but no one seemed to notice. Roger likes to hang out in the left court and run around his backhand, but Safin's backhand down the line made Roger run to his forehand and drew errors or shortballs for the easy putaway.

But now that Roger has recently shown that he can be had like anyone else if you just fight and press on like Lee Nails, everyone takes notice of his inconsistent weapon.

Roddick had the best forehand in the men's game for two years. It was as big as Fernando Gonzalez's and he hit it on the lines on a regular basis. His short angle inside out laser was unplayable. That single shot saved match point agaist Younes El Aynaoui in that now legendary quarterfinal in Melbourne 2003. But when Andy lost all confidence in his entire game circa 2005, he started covering the ball and that became a habit. He doesn't hit it flat anymore and that's one of the reasons why Rafa had his way with Roddick in Indian Wells this year. If Roddick hit his forehand like he used to, he's at least in that match, if not the victor (see: James Blake).

But Roddick's serve has suffered even more than his forehand. He knocked Rafa over with it the first time they played on a hardcourt at the US Open in 2004, but in their last match, he could barely get the first offering in. And when he did, it was in the middle of the box with nothing on it.

If I'm Roddick, I consult Jim Courier, a man who won two Roland Garros titles with a big serve, a big forehand, and a huge heart, something Andy also used to display on the regular (see: Paris, 2002; Melbourne, 2003; summer, 2003).

Andy's game has gotten far too complicated for his limited mind (his words; not mine). He can't outsmart opponents. But he sure as hell can hit them off the court. Problem is, he's taken so much criticism for being a ball basher, he doesn't bash the ball anymore.

He would do well to bash the ball. Grip and rip, baby. Ugly? If you say so. But it works. Rafa doesn't have a pretty game by any stretch, but it works.

And to those who say players now read Andy's serve better, I say otherwise. Players don't read Andy's serve better; he simply doesn't serve as well as he used to and that's all there is to it. His flat 140mph flat serve up the T used to hit the T. Now, it hits a foot inside the center line and only comes at 130mph. That 10mph and a foot make a huge difference for the returner. Roddick doesn't serve as many aces as he did when he was World No. 1 because he doesn't go for them as much anymore.

And his topspin forehand has become a neutral rally shot, indistinguishable from half the players in the top 50. I've no doubt he can get it back, make it a consistent weapon once more, but he has to stop with all the topspin, step up to the baseline, and become a mindless ball basher who plays from his guts again.

I'm hoping Jimmy Connors, one of the flattest strikers of the ball the game has ever produced, gets it right for Andy on the lawns. We shall see.


oddman said...

Great post! Totally agree, no one is reading that serve better, he's not hitting it like he used to - at all. Andy needs to fully embrace his 'mindless ball basher' label. Is there something wrong with that? Be the best damn ball basher you can be. Like Craig says, grip and rip, Andy had it before, he's just got to find it again. So many ppl get complaining cos the tennis isn't 'pretty' enough for their liking - go watch ballet or gymnastics, I say. Whoever gets the ball over the net into the court last gets the point, no? I remember BG predicting Andy's serve would be getting up near 160 mph long ago - where'd that serve go, Andy?

I still have a lot of faith in his game, and also in Jimmy's coaching - Andy is definitely a top contender for Wimbledon, regardless of all the Rafa/Raja attention lately. Go Andy!

kk said...

I agree with you completely on andy's game. He needs to quit pretending he can grind, step up, and just wail on the ball like he did in 03/early 04. The backhand and volley have definitely improved, but as a red-blooded American he probably will never really have the complete game. Stick to the guns.

As for Federer, I suppose you could call his forehand inconsistent. Because it was on that day he played Safin in Australia, or Kuerten in Paris, or Nadal almost anywhere. But every other day it's his go-to shot. And every other day it wins. Are you really going to call his weapon inconsistent when he rode it to three consecutive incredible years in which he lost only 15 times?

Savannah said...

Great post. And a great analysis. It just sounds weird. "Embrace your inner ball basher".

edma1022 said...

Hello there, mate. Been a long time since I posted. Board activity was crazy since Sunday. I wanted to sneak in when all's settled down.


Why is chicken pox relevant to Ferrero's FH deterioration?

Shanking is not a sign of an inconsistent FH because it's a matter of timing. Fed holds a K-Factor racquet with about 10 or more square inch less of space than Andy's (or Rafa's) Babolat. The inside-out requires a great stringbed surface to be "consistent". Still, as "KK" said "every other day...etc" he does things with his FH an ordinary player would trade an arm and a leg for. (and if his FH was inconsistent with Safin in Melbourne, he wouldn't have reached match point - knowing Marat's performance that month - and the month before in Houston TMC).

Overall a good post, though.

As to Andy, there's nothing to say except to just hang in there. Not his fault that Federer emerged during his watch, and now Nadal is emerging over Fed's.


Craig Hickman said...

Sorry, kk and ed. Roger's forehand has always been inconsistent. I've even called it a wasteland in the past. I've seen it break down in many more matches than I can list here, I only put a few big ones up, and that's it. I don't care what racquet he uses, don't care how much he's won. It's also my belief that his aura has won him more big matches than his tennis. I know most of his fans won't agree, might even call me a fool but that's none of my business, really. Roger's game is not above criticism, no matter how many cheerleaders around the world he he has.

Ed, chicken pox saps the core energy of an adult man. Ferrero hasn't been the same since. Hewitt hasn't either, but he never really had any weapons to speak of in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Hi Craig, always enjoy reading your blogs and I usually agree with you but on this one I have to disagree. Fed's forehand inconsistent, I dont think so. You must have been watching a different guy than I have been watching for the past 3 to 4 years. What then would you say about his victory over Nadal on Sunday. That Nadal did not turn up. If Fed had lost people would have said all kinds of stuff about how Nadal is in his head. Come on give the guy some credit. For the record I dont mind the ball bashing as long as it has something else to go with it

Craig Hickman said...

Roger beat Nadal on Sunday because he played a better match. I bet no one would disagree with that.

But Roger's forehand was off in the first set and on in sets two and three. That, to me, is the very definition of inconsistent. Still, I prefaced the word inconsistent in my original entry with the word relatively. Relative to Roddick's, that is (as opposed to say, Blake's who also has an inconsistent forehand.)

At his best, Roddick's forehand was a consistent weapon that rarely broke down. Now it's a consistent rally shot that rarely does any damage. Roger's forehand is off one set; on the next two; on one set, off the next two. That's what I see because it's there to be seen. His backhand has become a more consistent shot in my eyes. It also has more variety (slice, dropshot, topspin, sidespin, underspin, lob) relative to his forehand. But make no mistake: when Roger's forehand is on, it's a great shot. I never suggested otherwise. But when it's off, it's a mess. In short, Roger never needed his "go-to" shot to be consistent in order to achieve what he's achieved. He's got other weapons, no?

Roddick has been working on so many other aspects of his game that I think those things will be there as needed but he really ought to get back to bashing the ball from on or inside the baseline.