'Best bad player' may yet show just how good he is

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The Independent Online

Andy Roddick, Andy Murray's semi-final opponent here this afternoon, sometimes calls himself "the best bad tennis player of all time". The American is just 26, but he won his only Grand Slam title six years ago and has grown used to people suggesting that he has been overtaken by a new generation.

"I feel that a lot of the time people talk about up-and-coming players and say they do a lot of stuff better – but I do end up winning a lot of the time," the world No 6 said. "If you look at my record against the rest of the top 10, with the exception of Roger Federer, it's pretty good for a guy who, so they say, can serve but can't really volley or hit a backhand or whose forehand isn't really big any more. The list goes on and on and on, but there must be something there. I'm going to try to figure it out."

Does he ever get frustrated by that media image? "I don't care about the coverage, man. I've done a lot of things and I don't really care about the coverage. But I do think I'm a pretty good player and maybe that's not represented a lot."

Apart from a brief spell in the summer of 2006, Roddick has not been out of the world's top 10 since he broke into the top flight more than six years ago. He won the US Open in 2003 and was runner-up to Federer here in 2004 and 2005 and in New York in 2006. He has not played in a Grand Slam final since then, but two more semi-finals and three quarter-finals, combined with six titles elsewhere (bringing his career total to 27) and his general consistency, have kept the man from Austin, Texas, at the top of the game.

"One of the things I'm most proud of is being in the top 10 for so long," he said. "I think there are only 12 or 13 guys who have done it that long. I think that is a testament to me being able to compete week to week, even when I don't have my best stuff."

Getting married earlier this year to the swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker appears to have had only a positive effect on his tennis. Roddick reached the fourth round of the French Open – his best effort on Parisian clay – and is through to his first semi-final here for four years.

After he went out in the second round at Wimbledon last year Roddick compared the experience to being seven or eight rows back at a Rolling Stones concert when he was used to being in the front row. How did it feel to have reached the semi-finals here this year? "Getting closer," Roddick said. "I can see what Mick Jagger is wearing now."

Some critics still write Roddick off as a player whose only assets are a huge serve (he holds the record for the fastest ever at 155mph) and a crunching forehand, but there is much more to his game than that.

In particular, Roddick has worked hard on his backhand and fitness. At the instigation of Larry Stefanki, who took over as his coach in the winter, he has lost weight and believes he is fitter than he has been for years. He is also the grittiest of competitors: for example, he has won 24 of his 28 tie-breaks this year.

Roddick has had some high-profile coaches, including Brad Gilbert (who also coached Murray), Jimmy Connors and now Stefanki. The world No 6 insists that his current coach is the man calling the shots. "I said: 'Listen, I'm hiring you to be the boss. Whatever you tell me to do I'm going to do.' I don't have a problem with that, and I haven't had a problem with that. I think he was a little bit surprised."

Like Murray, Roddick has grown accustomed to bearing the hopes of a nation, even if the likes of James Blake have provided some support in recent times. "I've always said that for everything that's tough about it there are four or five things that are great about it," he said. "That's the position you want to be in. You want to deal with the pressures of being in that position. That being said, it's obviously tough. You have to deal with questions. I remember I came back in 2005, made the semis in Australia and the first question [at my next tournament] in San Jose was: 'What's wrong with you right now?'

"You always have to try not to lose your sense of perspective and not get all caught up in it. I think as I've got older I've cared less and less about what's been said and written. You learn to report back to yourself a little bit more. It is tough, but at the same time you have so many great opportunities and it's only a small percentage of people in the world who get cheered for and you get to experience that."

A-Rod's stats

155 mph is the speed of Roddick's fastest serve, the quickest recorded in professional tennis

1 is Roddick's highest world ranking, which he last held in February 2004

7 is the number of consecutive seasons he has finished in the ATP top 10 rankings. Roger Federer is the only other player who can match this

2005 is the year he last reached a Wimbledon final, a feat he also achieved in 2004. He lost to Federer on both occasions