Tennis

Turf wars as Roddick strives for clay footing

Reuters
Text by: Mark Rodden
9 min

Given his less-than-perfect preparation, Andy Roddick must be happy just to be taking part in this year's French Open. In an interview with RFI, the big-serving American said he was finally finding his feet after skipping some key tournaments.

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Illness forced the world number eight out of the Madrid Masters last week, which meant his warm-up matches at the Guinot Mary Cohr Masters took on greater significance than usual.

Speaking at the Paris Golf and Country Club after beating Russian Mikhail Youzhny on Friday, the 27-year-old says he feels he's finally getting into his stride ahead of Roland Garros.

Interview: Andy Roddick

"Missing Rome was planned," he told RFI. "Last year I had a good window to recoup, get my body strong again. My wife and I celebrated our first anniversary so that was always time that we were going to take for ourselves.

"Madrid wasn’t. I got there, I practiced one day and then spent three days in bed with a virus. So that was unfortunate timing, especially considering I had been off for five weeks. It could have happened any time then and it would have been fine.

"So we adjusted as best as we could by trying to play here two times this week. Hopefully that’ll be enough. It’s not the perfect preparation – it’s not how you would write it up, but we made the best adjustments that we could."

Roddick's aggressive style helped him win the US Open in 2003 and he came agonisingly close to claiming another Grand Slam title last season when he lost an epic final against Roger Federer at Wimbledon.

But while Roddick has had no problems imposing himself on hard or grass surfaces, he admits that the clay courts of Roland Garros are at odds with his natural game.

"Everything about clay kind of goes against the grain of what I do well. I hit the ball through the court and not so much with the angles and stuff like that. Clay promotes using the angles," he says.

“I don’t move as well on clay - just because I didn’t grow up on it - as I do on hard or on grass. It does present the most challenges and I have to compensate accordingly.”

Last year Roddick achieved his best result at the French Open when he reached the fourth round, but this time the sixth seed faces a difficult opening match against experienced Finnish campaigner Jarkko Nieminen.

"No one ever really expects much from me there if I’m being honest,” he says of his record at Roland Garros.

“To have my best result there last year was a good thing and I believe I can build on that. I believe I can go further so we’ll see."

Roger Federer won last year's French Open after four-time winner Rafael Nadal was knocked out early on, and Roddick believes that, once again, they will be the men to beat when the tournament gets underway on Sunday.

"Rafa’s the favourite every time he steps on to a clay court - it doesn’t matter who he’s playing. I think people made a lot bigger deal of his loss last year than it actually is," Roddick says.

"If you had asked me the day after he lost who’s going to be the favourite for the next year, it was always going to be Rafa.

"I think he’s the favourite and then obviously with Roger winning last year he’s proven he’s probably far and away the second best clay court player in the world. After that there’s probably another five or six guys, so we’ll see how it shakes out."

If there is hope for non-clay court specialists like Roddick, it can be drawn from the experience of players like Robin Soderling. The Swede caused a huge upset last year when he dumped Nadal out of the tournament during an unlikely run to the final.

"There have been examples of that with Robin last year and I think people have already forgotten about Martin Verkerk in 2003,” Roddick says.

“There’s definitely been some players that are not specialists on the surface but that have made it happen. It’s possible. It’s obviously tougher - it’s more challenging - but it is possible."

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