Thanks to coach Connors, Roddick is on a roll


By Luke Jensen, ESPN Tennis Analyst
Andy Roddick and Marat Safin are both true heavyweights of the game. Both are 6-4 and weigh in at 195 lbs. The essential difference in their games though, is their power source. Roddick has a huge serve, a weapon he's had since the day he made his debut. Safin's weapons are his big groundstrokes.

The difference Friday, however, was not power, it was strategy. Particularly from Roddick. When he won the U.S. Open in 2003, the year he finished No. 1 in the world, his stifling serve and forehand were too much for his opponents to handle. But against Safin, Roddick added some new tactics, and the intangibles he displayed proved to be the difference in this match.

First, he took advantage of short balls. He attacked them instead of letting them come to him. Furthermore, he took balls early from the baseline, which consequently means less reaction time for your opponents. This game plan was essential in taking out the Russian monster. Because Safin was coming off consecutive five-set matches, his legs were not fresh to begin with. It was clearly noticeable that he did not have the bounce in his step or the sting in his shots toward the end of the match, and Roddick took advantage of that.

If Roddick had played one-dimensional tennis, if he had just gone out and banged the ball around, it's unknown what the outcome would have been. The maturation of Andy Roddick is as impressive as his game.

Roddick's success is thanks in large part to his coach, Jimmy Connors, who has been with him for less than a year. Connors has emphasized the X's and O's. It's clear that attacking the net and moving forward are integral ingredients Connors wants his student to improve upon. Against Safin, Roddick came to net 52 times! That kind of tactic was essential in neutralizing Safin's powerful ground game.

Is Roddick's plan perfect? No, he's still learning and improving his volleys. But unquestionably, his game is heading in the right direction. Roddick's big serve is still there. His huge forehand is and always will be a weapon, but what we are seeing now is the complete player.

When we look back at Andy Roddick's career, this match could be a turning point. He had to knock off a guy who won the championship down here two years ago and a guy who is also a former U.S. Open winner. There's no reason to think Roddick can't make a championship run here in Melbourne.