It may not have been the match we all expected, but you can’t take it away from Andy Roddick. He was all over a floundering Novak Djokovic in their quarterfinal encounter at Indian Wells today, and came out an impressive 6-3, 6-2 winner.
The match was unexpectedly one-sided for two reasons. Roddick has improved his game, and Djokovic has lost his way.
Let's start with Roddick. It’s been clear since the beginning of the season that his new coach and training regimen are reaping rewards. He looks lean, and he is playing fit and fast. He’s playing doubles in this tournament and has made the semifinals there, too.
Roddick is also coping well with the pressure and expectation of the home crowd and the fact that Indian Wells is the one North American title he has not yet won.
More interesting than all these factors, he looks relaxed and confident, and rightly so.
In this match, his lightning speed around the court and remarkably-sound ground strokes allowed him to both attack and defend effectively.
He maintained consistent depth on both sides, placing the ball right in the baseline corners time and again. His retrieval of some penetrating shots from Djokovic kept him in contention when less nimble players would have been out of the rally. This was an advantage against a Serbian opponent who made regular errors once play extended into long rallies.
That takes us to Djokovic. There is no question he has not played at his best throughout this tournament.
There has been talk about his new racket, but one feels, by now, that this should not be an issue. However, his timing still looks slightly off which, in turn, seems to be making him uneasy and disconsolate.
Djokovic produced some magnificent serves from time to time, and ripped off some classic unreturnable "Nole" drives. He did have opportunities to break serve on a couple of occasions, but he was kept at bay by Roddick’s shot-making.
He suffered particularly on the backhand side, which Roddick targeted persistently in this match and reaped rewards for doing so.
It's hard to say where Djokovic should go from here. He looks as though he needs time to train with his new racket—or switch back to his old one—without the pressure of the media, the crowd, and some hungry and revitalised opponents.
At this stage in the season, that may be a luxury he can't afford with Miami just around the corner, and Monte Carlo and Rome on the horizon.
What Roddick has around the corner is a match against the toughest player in the game. Can he make it past Rafael Nadal in tomorrow’s semifinals?
His new speed and fitness will certainly help, as will the soundness of his ground strokes. He will, though, need to deploy more of his skills to win outright points rather than rely on wearing down his opponent (which won’t happen).
There were many occasions in the quarterfinals when his beautifully-placed drives with added top spin left a perfect opening to advance to the net and pick off a floating return.
Roddick’s volleys—demonstrated a few times in the match—are deep, well-placed, and effective. Indeed he played one swinging drive volley in this match that was as good as any in the men’s game. Not using this weapon more is a lost opportunity.
He will lose some points to Nadal’s passing shots with this tactic; he will also win some. To win this match, he will have to take a few chances, but that may be Roddick’s main weakness. He is a percentage player, not a risk-taker.
This popular American could soon be moving from seventh to fifth in the rankings, his highest position since the autumn of 2007. He deserves much credit for taking his career by the horns and making what might be his last-ditch attempt on a Grand Slam title.
He has more tools at his disposal this year than he has had in a while. He has earned his new-found success and has nothing to lose by throwing caution to the wind.
So add a large gin to your slimline, Andy, and go for it!