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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Roddick's a changed man

Photo Titled Andy Roddick
Andy Roddick

Andy Roddick is playing at Wimbledon for the ninth time — but for the first time as a married man and the first time under the coaching of Larry Stefanki. No one would argue that he is a changed man.

Andy Roddick has twice been a runner-up at Wimbledon but last year went out in the second round, his earliest exit point. "I was going into Wimbledon a little under-prepared," he admits. "I hadn't really played a whole lot and to be honest I haven't played my best tennis there the last couple of years. But this year I’m really excited , I’m playing a little bit better and moving a little bit better."

At 26 Roddick has clearly not given up the chase for a second Grand Slam title — he won the US Open in 2003 — or to build his challenge again at Wimbledon where he was runner-up to Roger Federer in 2004 and again the following year.

Larry Stefanki is a Californian who ranked as high as 35th in the world when he was on the tour for nine years. Since then his skills as a motivator and tactician have taken him into a coaching role with, among others, John McEnroe, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Tim Henman and now Roddick.

"When I hired him I just said that I'm not looking to run the show, that's your job, I'm here to follow orders," Roddick says, "and he said 'ok, well, lose 15 pounds'. So the process started , I don't think it was anything magic or revolutionary, it was just eating right, and the biggest thing was having six weeks of an off season to be really disciplined about it.

"It gives you a little bit of underlying confidence knowing that you have put in the work. I can play different ways now, scramble a little bit better, or I can play aggressive and everything just feels a little bit quicker."

Results prove Roddick was on target. He was a semi-finalist in the Australian Open, where he would always hope to do well, and the last 16 at the French Open, where he has been less successful. Results from other tournaments also reflected progress. These results came despite the distraction of his marriage this year to model Brooklyn Decker.

"The wedding took one day, but the whole time I was training. I trained the day afterwards. I feel physically I'm extremely well prepared," Roddick says.

Stefanki worked and watched, amending the programme as necessary. He says: "I think he's as capable as anyone to win on the grass and I’m talking Wimbledon. If he can serve with the variety that he's serving right now, I'm not just talking hitting fast balls all day long, putting himself in a position to move into the courts more, play on the baseline on the return of serve, attack a lot more, I think the window of opportunity is very big for him at Wimbledon.

"He lost second round at Wimbledon last year and that was horrible for him. He knows that window is there, he knows he's playing well and it's exciting for him and exciting for me to see if he maintains this aggressiveness and this approach.

"When we got together I tried to look on what he did not do well and what his deficiencies were compared to the other five guys ahead of him. I felt like his movement and footwork were a little bit on the lesser side than the guys ahead of him so I said 'Listen, if you want to get into that realm you're going to have to lose weight, become faster on your feet, do a lot of running, do a lot of two-on-ones, hit-move, hit-move, not just hit, watch and then try to run after the ball and get a breather'.

"I am a big believer that the game at this level is played from the waist down. It's all about footwork, balance, getting yourself in the right position and then basically cock the racket back and go."

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