Andy Roddick's Vicious Coaching Cycle
Andy Roddick is well-known for his coaching choices, as he has worked with some of the biggest names in tennis since 2003 and, in the process, won more than a few of the game’s biggest titles.
But as any fan of five-time New York Yankees’ manager Billy Martin could tell you, the downside of coaching a high-ranking prospect is the expectations that go with it.
When those expectations aren’t met, your reputation may only be as good as your latest set of results.
By that standard, Roddick’s current coach, Larry Stefanki, may be back on the job market soon.
When: Mid-2003 to Late-2004
The Problem: Andy Roddick was already proven to have one of the world’s hardest serves and biggest forehands, but since his breakout year of 2001, he had grown stagnant, consistently falling against members of the top 10 and struggling to win titles outside of the United States.
Immediate Bump: After a first round defeat at Roland Garros, Roddick hired Gilbert and proceeded to win Queen’s Club, defeating Andre Agassi for the first time in the final.
After a semifinal Wimbledon appearance, Roddick then had one of the most successful hard court seasons in history, winning the Master’s shields in Canada and Cincinnati followed by the US Open, his first major.
Roddick then went on to finish 2003 at No. 1; at 21, he was the youngest American to achieve that designation.
The Disappointment: Despite winning the first set and having an early break in the third, Roddick fell to Roger Federer in the 2004 Wimbledon final, allowing the Swiss to hold on to the No. 1 ranking he'd acquired at that year's Australian Open.
The Shock: After four dominant straight set wins at the 2004 US Open, Roddick fell behind two sets against Sweden’s Joachim Johansson in the quarters.
After digging out of that hole to force a fifth, Roddick was broken in the final game of the match, thus losing his Open crown and falling out of contention for No. 1.
Stagnation: After July, Roddick failed to win another title in 2004 and was soundly beaten in the Masters Cup semis by Lleyton Hewitt.
The Split: Roddick fired Gilbert at the end of 2004 only 18 months after their partnership began, citing dissatisfaction with the progress they’d been making.
When: Mid-2006 to Early-2008
The Problem: Following Gilbert’s departure, Roddick failed to add further luster to his career. He won a few events in 2005, but in his only trip to a Grand Slam final he was beaten comprehensively by Federer, a result he followed with a first-round loss at the US Open.
By mid-2006 he was in a full-fledged slump, unable to win a title or get past the fourth round of the AO or Wimbledon.
Immediate Bump: After starting to work with Connors, Roddick used an immediate confidence boost (plus a tweaked backhand) to win Cincinnati, his first Master’s Shield in more than two years. He then advanced to only his second US Open final before falling to Federer.
The Disappointment: At the tail-end of 2006, Federer’s best season, Roddick very nearly handed the Swiss only his sixth loss of the year (and first to a guy not named Nadal or Murray) in the Master’s Cup round robin.
After Roddick won the first set and had a match point in the second, however, the Swiss escaped to win in three. A deflated Roddick proceeded to fall to David Nalbandian and failed to qualify for the main draw.
The Shock: After defeating the Swiss in an exhibition to start the year and reaching the Australian Open semifinals, Roddick was widely believed to have a chance to dethrone Federer a the first major of the year.
But in possibly the most amazing performance of his career, the Swiss broke Roddick seven of 12 times for a 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 whitewashing.
Stagnation: Though he won two titles in ’07, Roddick was largely a non-factor in majors and Masters Series events, falling in the first round of the RG for the fourth time and suffering a shock fifth-set loss against Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon. When he lost in the third round of the Australian Open to start 2008, Connors was all but done.
The Split: Connors left in late winter of 2008, and Roddick was coached for the remainder of the year by his brother John.
When: Late 2008-present
The Problem: After struggling with injuries for much of ’08, Roddick had failed to make much of an impact in the majors that year.
As Federer and Nadal, plus the young guns Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray threatened to box Roddick out of the top of the game, he turned to Stefanki, former coach of John McEnroe, Marcelo Rios, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Tim Henman, and Fernando Gonzalez.
Immediate Bump: After losing 15 pounds during the winter off-season, Roddick plowed through the AO draw, taking out Djokovic in the quarters.
He added one more title in San Jose, then put together his best performance at the RG by reaching the round of 16. At Wimbledon, he defeated Murray in the semis in front of the British crowd to reach his first major final in nearly three years.
The Disappointment: Roddick came within one point of a two-set lead against Federer, but instead fell behind two sets to one.
Then, after forcing a fifth set, Roddick was broken for the first time all day in the 30th game of set five and denied his second major yet again.
The Shock: Spoken of as one of the favorites at the US Open in September, Roddick fell to fellow big-serving American John Isner in a fifth-set tiebreaker in the round of 16, despite winning more points and only being broken once.
Stagnation: Roddick hasn’t won a match since, falling in Beijing to the unheralded Lukasz Kubot, then retiring due to injury in Shanghai against Stanislas Wawrinka.
The Split: ???
Had Andre Agassi given up on coaches as easily as Andy Roddick has, Brad Gilbert would surely have been back on the market by late-1996.
But Agassi didn't, and their partnership continued until the early part of this decade. That may be one reason why Gilbert was noticeably disappointed when Roddick dumped him about five years ago, saying that there was still plenty of work left for him to do with Roddick.
It’s easy to second-guess such a decision, but Roddick is now 27, which means his time at the top is dwindling and his motivation to find a fresh boost in him momentum is only likely to increase. The desire to remove the one-slam wonder tag, unfair as it may be, may only grow more passionate.
But, if he sacks Stefanki now, though, who will work with him? That's one question Roddick is going to have to deliberate during the off-season. Finding new coaches is easier when you're in the top 5; probably not so much when you're in the bottom half of the top 10 and your coaches have a notoriously short shelf-life.