My coach tells me that I am improving. I now remember to bring my right shoulder around as I take the backswing on the backhand. I remember to go from low to high to add more topspin so that the balls stay in the court. My volleys are truly popping. All in all, the tennischick’s game has been becoming solid.
Which is to be expected. It is why I pay for his services. It is why I am out there at weekends and midweek, pounding ball after ball after ball. I want to be a better tennis player. I want to improve so that my friends will always enjoy playing with me. And I want to get my money’s worth out of the ball machine that I gifted myself last Xmas.
What I do not for the life of me understand is why Andy Roddick has shown such little improvement in years. Boyfriend seems stuck in the same lurch where where Tarik Benhabiles left him years ago. Not Brad Gilbert, not Jimmy Connors, not even the great Larry Stefanki have managed to remove the glitches from Duckboy’s game.
My question then is why not? Why is Roddick still hitting that barely serviceable backhand? Roddick is not just your average Joe playing tennis on public courts. He is a professional tennis player. A serviceable backhand is not acceptable at his level.
These were my thoughts last night as I watched Roddick dump a lame-assed backhand into the net, conceding the second set tiebreak and the match to Ferrer in Shanghai. David has beaten Roddick before of course, so the loss itself was not a big surprise. The surprise was in observing that final pointless backhand, that pitiful moment when Roddick seemed to have given up, the moment when it became crystal clear to me that his tennis was as good as it was ever going to get.
Now I expect Roddick fans to chime in at this point and say that he has a beautiful (if dumb) wife and all the money he needs, is a former world #1, has a US Open title, and several Masters titles, all of which he accomplished with the same crappy backhand. So why don’t you just piss off tennischick and get a life? Or words to that effect.
To which my response would be that all of those factors are completely irrelevant. My focus here is not on what Roddick has or doesn’t have in his life, or on what he has or hasn’t accomplished. My focus is on the lack of visible improvement. I’m also asking honestly, why he is making the same mistakes he made ten years ago. Why is he playing the same damn tennis? Why are there so few (if any) signs of improvement?
And there are even more questions to be asked. Such as, why hasn’t Roddick yet learned how to protect the line of return when he ventures into net to volley, so that he doesn’t keep getting passed time after time? And why is he still so often caught flat-footed, instead of constantly making those mini adjustments that get you ready to play the next point? Why is he still muscling the ball instead of rotating hips and shoulders smoothly into the point? Face it, these are beginner errors still being made by a pro!
My answer to all of these questions is that Roddick has suffered from being labeled as ‘great’ well before he was even remotely deserving of the title. And while folks can clearly see that this is precisely what damaged Donald Young’s early progress, I have always found it amazing that the folks who criticize Young remain willing to give Roddick a pass. But the truth is that the same thing happened to them both, and may have psychologically damaged them in similar fashion.
When you tell a young man that he is great well before he has matured enough to earn or wear this label, that could shut down any chances of him perceiving himself as a work in progress. Why change anything if you are already the best? Why change anything when your big serve and your slap-happy forehand have won you a Slam and a few Masters?
(Part 1 of 2)