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August 29, 2009

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Roddick basks in new-found respect

FOR many tennis fans, Andy Roddick's epic final against Roger Federer at Wimbledon last month signalled the American's return to the sport's elite.

In reality, Roddick never went away.

Since 2002 only two players have finished every year in the top 10 of the ATP Tour world rankings. Their names? Federer and Roddick.

It comes as no surprise that the Swiss maestro, who has crammed a record 15 grand slams into his trophy case over those eight seasons, would find his name at the top of a short list.

But Roddick, who holds just one grand slam title from the 2003 US Open, does not automatically leap to mind as the other. Spaniard Rafael Nadal, Serb Novak Djokovic and, most recently, Briton Andy Murray have stepped up to fill the role of Federer's chief rival while Roddick faded into the background.

But since Wimbledon, Roddick is no longer tennis's forgotten man and in the buildup to this year's US Open has figured prominently among the discussion of possible champions.

"Andy's not under the radar anymore and that's probably a good thing," Brad Gilbert, Roddick's former coach said.

"Now that the expectations are there I think he's ready to handle it. He is definitely one of the six guys capable of winning."

Great victory

It was not a great victory but a gut-wrenching five-set loss that thrust the 26-year-old American back into the spotlight. His gritty effort in the Wimbledon final earned him equal measures of sympathy and respect.

While Roddick's game has matured so has the player.

Recently married, Roddick concedes life has changed and along with it the way fans see him, although he insists at his core nothing is different.

"During my career I've kind of been portrayed as every single type of person: good, bad, ugly, rude," said Roddick. "This is kind of the first time it's been presented in a light that's kind of the hard-working, everyday-Joe-type tennis player trying to make good while the meat and potatoes of who I am has probably stayed the same."

Some of the credit for Roddick's resurgence can be directly traced to Larry Stefanki, who signed on as coach in December, putting a premium on fitness and whipping the world No. 5 into the best shape of his career.


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