ATP Tennis 360

November 17, 2009 4:16 PM

The wheel of fortune

He won the heart of a nation with a loss. He has a great "might have been" signed on his career, bringing the image of a iron-minded player fallen down while knocking on the Heaven's door. So there's the ironic impression of an inescapable faith in the news he'll be forced to withdraw from the ATp World Tour Finals for the left knee ligament injury he suffered in the Shanghai Masters 1000 second round against Stan Wawrinka.

An impression reinforced when you think to the man who'll take his spot: Robin Soderling. The same Robin Soderling who in Paris opened the Heaven's door entering in the history books becoming the first man to defeat the King of Clay on his reign, and gave a quick glimpse to the party of glory inside, without being invited to come in.

The son of Nebraska will be remembered for the "renaissance of the year", although this process maintained the stigmata of unfinishness, as like his style, his game, his evolution, his fate can't fill up his ambitions. Six years ago he was acclaimed as the new American Messiah. He had 20 years, he triumphed in the Us Open demolishing Juan Carlos Ferrero in a one-sided final; A-Rod, the 155-mph serve man, had survived a thrilling semi against Nalbandian, who made him fool for the first two sets with a series of winning backhand accelerations down the line, Mosquito was already satisfied by his success over Andre Agassi. A-Rod was immediately elevated as heir of the stars and striped mosquetairs who had dominated rankings and Grand Slams, Agassi and Sampras. After a 200 kmh ace down the T, he sealed that victory and kneeling down to gewt drunk with crowd cheers.He had a bad-hurting forehand, a scholastic volley game and a poor backhand. But that seemed enough to write new pages of successes.

Rarely a prevision revealed to be further from reality. That triumph was the last American victory in a Grand Slam event. To find such a long gap we have to come back to the Fifties, from 1955, when Tony Trabert won the home tournament, to 1963 when Chuck McKinley conquered the Championships. Despite 26 singles titles and a Davis Cup won in 2007, 12 years after the last Usa success registered by Sampras & Co., without losing a rubber, his star shined for few months before being obscured by R&R, Roger and Rafa. Roddick, who had tasted the glittering and blazing air of the peak has never really accepted being relegated to the role of "reserve", second choice, precious comprimary. Being the new Gerulaitis, the new Chang was not his primary plan.

He tried to avoid, to rewrite his destiny, he tried to work on his forehand and groundstrokes, to add topspin to his flat strokes and be more productive also on slower surfaces. But he, fierce and proud, continued to suffer. He tried even to hire a desaparecido like Jimmy Connors, in vain. Then he chose Larry Stefanki, ex coach of Mano de Pedra Gonzalez and Marcelo Rios. And this year, he has achieved that rare mid-career step-up in his game, due to the new coach and to his to a refreshed desire: he has lost 10lbs, he worked harder than ever. But it wasn't completely enough to realize his dream of a second Grand Slam victory. .

Often his ambitions were thwarted by a meeting with Roger Federer, but a mixture of real inferiority and perceived complex of inadequacy brought his record against the Swiss to a disappointing 2-19 (he's 2-5 against Rafa). This year two direct meetings in the majors are extremely eloquent. In the Australian Open semifinal he entered in the match in the second set: they went on with serve until 5 all, and then, systematically, he lost his mind being twice broken to 5-6. He went so close to force the breaker, but one lapse of concentration costed him the set. In the third Roger produced his matchpoint reading a slice from the American, who couldn't return a forehand winner.

Even more excruciating it was the backhand volley wasted in the Wimbledon final second set. There he lost the match, and the three and more subsequent hours served only to prolongue the agony, to make all American fan side with the designed stars-and-striped loser. In the press conference after that extraordinary title match, after a surreal final set when he served to stay in the championship nine times before falling down 16-14, a journalist asked him: ""Can you tell us what just happened out there, Andy?". Roddick simply, genuinely, bleakly answered: "I lost".

Probably only in his marriage with Brooklyn Decker in April someone asked this hectorian fighter to define such an heavy emotional understatement in only two words. In his eyes there was the deep nature of the greatest competitor. He had just played the best tennis of his career, he displayed a more brilliant game than his Us Open triumph, but in his eyes there wasn't any flicker of self-satisfaction, but only the sad resignation for having come up short once again.

The story has repeated itself. The unopportune injury has forced him to come up short again. The man who had felt the American expectations on his shoulder for the past six years, the soldier who had lived this pressure as a burden, when finally started to relish the role was frustrated by his lackings and some unfavourable conjunctures. "One of these days I just have to find a way to win" he said. It has been the good intention for the next year in every season from 2003. But he's readier than ever to make the wheel of fortune finally round in his direction.

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