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S.L. Price
September 11, 2006
Jimbology 101
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September 11, 2006

Tennis

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Jimbology 101

After a summer tutorial with Jimmy Connors, his new coach, Andy Roddick made a run into Week 2 of the U.S. Open

On the surface, it seemed like a match made in hell: the floundering, hypersensitive, mouthy star and the inexperienced, hypersensitive, mouthy legend. Plenty of eyebrows shot up when Andy Roddick hired Jimmy Connors as his coach in July, and you couldn't walk through the grounds at the 2006 U.S. Open without hearing murmured predictions of the break to come: Jimbo will get bored; A-Rod will feel neglected; the combustible mix will blow, leaving a residue of nasty quotes and ill feeling. But for the moment? Connors, it turns out, is the best thing that's happened to Roddick in years.

Just in time, too. Since Roddick won his only major, the 2003 U.S. Open, his career has spiraled downward. By last spring he had burned through coaches Brad Gilbert and Dean Goldfine, and after a third-round loss at Wimbledon, the once-preeminent American player of his generation fell out of the top 10 for the first time since October 2002. But after persuading Connors, who had never coached, to break his self-imposed exile from the game, Roddick made the final in Indianapolis and in August won his first title of '06, in Cincinnati. On Monday he disposed of Benjamin Becker 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 to bull his way into the U.S. Open quarterfinals. "The biggest difference is in Andy's footwork and court positioning," says former No. 1 Jim Courier. "Those are things everyone he's worked with- Pat McEnroe in Davis Cup, Brad, Dean-said he needed to [improve]. Jimmy's broken through. He's gotten Andy to actually do it."

Connors doesn't travel with Roddick full-time, leaving that to John Roddick, Andy's brother and the former tennis coach at Georgia. Connors's role is to spot the gaps in Roddick's game and tell him. "I was scared, because I didn't know what to expect," Roddick said on Monday. "You hear things and you know someone's reputation. I think we were both taking a leap of faith, just hoping that something would click."

"I never ever thought I would [coach]," the 54-year-old Connors said last week. "Maybe I didn't feel like I wanted to give what I can to anybody. It didn't go to my kids." But with an instructional DVD on the market and a book in the works, Connors has been edging his way back into the tennis spotlight. Roddick first called him while on a train from Paris to London in May, and as the two got to know each other, Connors saw something in Roddick that sealed the deal: a bit of himself, one man battling the world.

"I've been kicked in the teeth more times in tennis than the law ought to allow," Connors says. "I know what that feels like, and that kid doesn't deserve it. He's too great a player, and he's too American to take that kind of hammering. To get his confidence back is an important part of it."

Can the partnership last? Connors raves about Roddick's receptivity. But it will take time to get used to the sight of Connors cringing and cheering in a courtside box. "Nothing is like being out there and playing and performing and winning-nothing," Connors says. "But to have an interest in the player? The nerves and everything that goes with it? Seeing what he's learned and how he's done it? That's the second best thing to playing. I think."

ARAVANE REZA�

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