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
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.
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."
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."
From Camping To