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.