The next time Andy Roddick plays a competitive match, he'll be on the dreaded European clay leading the U.S. against Austria in the opening round of the Davis Cup. Less certain is how the rest of 2008 will unfold following another tough loss in a Grand Slam.
Roddick's defeat to an inspired Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round of the Australian Open was the latest disappointment and marked the fifth time in the past eight majors the Texan failed to advance past the fourth round.
Kohlschreiber, the diminutive German with the big game, produced an astounding 104 winners and dictated proceedings on backcourt rallies, keeping Roddick lingering behind the baseline. Ken Meyerson, his straight-talking agent, admitted that's no place for him to be if he intends to win a second Grand Slam title.
"Why would Andy resort to playing more of a retrieving-type game as opposed to more of an aggressive game?'' Meyerson asked. "I don't know whether it's nerves or deliberate, but I can only say his best tennis is when he takes that first ball and pummels it, whether it's a return on a second serve and he really goes for it, or is what we know as his classic one-two -- big serve, big forehand.
"Maybe 'frustrating' is not the right word, but when Andy plays that way, it's clearly and objectively not as effective as when he steps up and beats the crap out of the ball. I don't want Andy to get too complicated, and I don't like to see him work so hard to win points.''
The world No. 6 toiled for almost four hours against Kohlschreiber and was on the wrong end of a 3½-hour epic against Richard Gasquet on the grass at Wimbledon last year, perhaps his most devastating loss. Both had a few similarities, apart from the fifth set ending 8-6.
Roddick was only broken twice by Kohlschreiber, which is little surprise, given he finished second behind towering Croat Ivo Karlovic in points won on first serve last year. But while Kohlschreiber won more than half on his own second serve, that figure shrunk to 36 percent for Roddick.
Against Gasquet, the Frenchman similar in stature to Kohlschreiber and also blessed with a picturesque one-handed backhand, Roddick blew a two-set advantage in the quarterfinals. He dropped serve, again, just twice, with Gasquet registering 93 winners and claiming almost half of Roddick's second-serve points. The number dwindled to 34 percent for the American.
"Guys seem to play well against Andy, and I think part of that is that he allows them to play against him,'' said ESPN commentator Jimmy Arias, a former world No. 5. "Kohlschreiber, by everyone's perception, was unbelievable. But I have a feeling that it's Andy's game bringing it out.''
Coaching guru Nick Bollettieri agreed with Meyerson's assessment that his court position needs altering, saying Roddick can't hurt anyone from beyond the baseline, especially with his backhand. Interestingly, he suggested a little more variety on the serve, too, to keep the opponent guessing. (On a related note, Roddick's nemesis, or should that be, most everyone's nemesis, Roger Federer, has often said he can read the serve.)
"The players on the other side got to know that Andy will be coming in, not from way back behind the baseline or on shots anybody would come in on, he's got to come in when you don't expect him to,'' Bollettieri said. "And then Andy doesn't do that. It's a shame because he's competitive and he fights his butt off.''
Why, as others have asked, doesn't Roddick take more chances when returning, for instance, given his serve is rarely under threat?
When he came close to notching a long-awaited second scalp over Federer at the Masters Cup two years ago, holding match points, Roddick won more points than Federer returning first serves and was at more than 40 percent on second serves.
"I'm surprised it hasn't happened when his steady, grind-it-out play hasn't worked,'' Arias said. "If that's not working, let's go to Plan B. Then again, it might be hard for him to think like that because he's losing a tiebreaker. It's still unbelievably tight, so he's thinking, 'This is what I need to do.' It's a tough situation in some ways.''
Taking more risks is an approach endorsed by 1991 Wimbledon champion Michael Stich, who, at one stage a few years ago, was in talks to informally work with Roddick. (Stich was also represented by Meyerson.) Adding a looping topspin forehand wouldn't hurt either, he said.
Roddick is still only 25, which gives him time to add to his arsenal. So it's too early for him to panic, said Stich, who retooled his own forehand with Sven Groeneveld -- the Dutchman who frequently coaches Australian Open finalist Ana Ivanovic -- following foot surgery in 1995 and reached the French Open final a year later at age 27.
"I said after my second operation, 'My forehand sucks, basically, and I want to work on it,''' Stich said. "I changed my forehand in three months' time, not completely, but I changed it. I found out that even at that stage in your career, you can add to your game. With Andy, I do believe he can improve and still win a Grand Slam title.''
In the immediate future, meeting up with his Davis Cup teammates next week in Vienna as the U.S. begins the defense of its title could be the perfect tonic.
"To hang with the guys, I think it's therapeutic for him mentally, and it's good for him to get back into a team atmosphere,'' Meyerson said. "Andy is such a guy's guy in terms of enjoying the camaraderie of a team.''
Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.