Roddick's ranking on the rise with U.S. Open run

NEW YORK -- It wasn't quite a worst-to-first odyssey, but Andy Roddick's journey between last year's U.S. Open and this year's edition was epic nonetheless.

Roddick's runner-up finish here culminated two months of concerted effort that helped him pull out of the rut he'd been in for most of the season, and represented a U-turn from last year's embarrassing first-round loss.

"Closing the gap from where I was earlier this year, you know, it was like the Grand Canyon," he said.

His return to the Open final after a four-year absence also marked the only time an American tennis player reached a Grand Slam championship match this year. Roddick's performance vaults him from No. 10 in the ATP rankings to No. 6.

Yet the 24-year-old instantly corrected commentator Dick Enberg during the trophy presentation when Enberg tried to put him back at the pinnacle. "Almost,'' Roddick interjected.

Roddick got a much closer glimpse of the summit than he's had in a while. His self-assessment afterward was hopeful, humble and hungry.

"I gave myself a shot today," he said. "That's all I could ask for. I wanted to make it tough. I played my heart out. I tried my best. You know, I'm excited. I feel like I have a lot of room for improvement still. I've just got to keep working."

His partner in that endeavor for the last two months, Jimmy Connors, looked drained but elated after two weeks of watching their collaboration bear fruit. He said he never thought he would mentor anyone but his own children before he agreed to coach Roddick.

"I had an opportunity to have lived it and loved it, and now I have the opportunity to live it through someone else," said Connors, who joined Roddick's brother John as a co-coach shortly after Roddick's third-round loss at Wimbledon. "The only thing is, my heart can't take it.

"I'm proud of the way he took everything and soaked it up and was able to do it. It's incredible, that kind of desire. … I liked his attitude, his guts, the way he wasn't afraid to get in there and mix it up. He's not afraid to put his game and his reputation on the line every time. He played like a man, and he lost like a man."

John Roddick said the difference for his brother this summer wasn't so much a drastic change in approach as "focusing on what you need to do and executing what you need to do … you just start feeling more confident. I think moving forward, it's good to know you can go toe-to-toe with him."

Andy Roddick made a point of saluting John, who succeeded Dean Goldfine as his coach earlier this year. "It was a little bit of an unfair position for [John] because I was struggling with confidence and he came in," he said. "I asked him basically to do me a favor by traveling with me and helping out. And then he got thrown under the bus a little bit, which I thought was unfair.

"My success is his success, as well. He's the one there on a daily basis helping me and helping me put in the sweat and the hours. You know, he's there every day for me. I love him very much, so I'm glad we got to experience this after a rough year."

Roddick, once criticized for staying pinned to the baseline and relying too much on his cannon of a serve, got mixed results for his aggressiveness at the net Sunday. He won 53 percent of the points he played there as Federer regularly capitalized on his position with lethal passing shots. But when Roddick was on in that part of the court, he was really on. He made good on 11 of 13 net points in the only set he won.

"It's not like I haven't been to the net at all in the past month and all of a sudden try to do it today," Roddick said. "It's something I've been committed to doing recently."

Stats aside, Roddick clearly was in the moment and appreciative of it. During one of the most taut stretches of the match -- a third-set game where he had four break points -- Roddick pushed a lob long after a dynamic rally and grinned openly in admiration of the back-and-forth.

After holding serve to tie the same set at 5-5, Roddick turned to commentator and Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe, who was watching from one corner of the court, and blurted out, "I can't handle this, it's too much fun."

That particular surplus was a good problem to have after Roddick's recent struggles. "I was really enjoying competing," he said. "That was a lot more fun than a lot of the losses I've had this year.

"I can't wait to spend the offseason working with Jimmy for an extended period of time, as well. I still feel like I have a lot to learn, and there's a lot of upsides still there. … I asked him the other day, and he said he was looking for this kind of run starting [next] January, you know, when we first started working together. So we feel like we're ahead of pace right now as far as our goals together."

Connors didn't want to talk about the specific tactical advice he's giving Roddick, but he did say he thinks their rapport has helped Roddick reverse some negative thinking.

"We combine what's important to me and what's important to him," Connors said. "Tennis is not a 24-hour deal. It's here, there, in-and-out.

"Outside tennis, he's loose and relaxed. Around tennis now, he's loose and relaxed. That's the way it should be. He's been under the gun for the last year, under a lot of pressure from outside and inside."

Bonnie DeSimone is a frequent contributor who is covering the U.S. Open for ESPN.com.