NEW YORK – Andy Roddick celebrated his 27th birthday the day before the U.S. Open started, but he isn't ready to stop unwrapping gifts just yet.
As he moves forward in a tournament that seems to land in a perfect confluence of form and focus for the world No. 5, the fates have been kind so far.
Not only has Roddick been afforded a comfortable draw in the opening rounds of this year's final Grand Slam, with a night-session draw on Thursday for the second straight time, but he has the opportunity to tap into an external factor that could have a critical impact on his showing.
If Roddick is to parlay the increased stability in his game and the extra step in his legs into a cherished second Slam title, he’ll need New York firmly in his corner.
Home-court advantage and a partisan crowd should not matter too much against second-round opponent Marc Gicquel, a Frenchman ranked 81st in the world and without a singles title in his career.
But in the more treacherous waters of the second week, where bigger fish such as Fernando Verdasco and Novak Djokovic may be waiting, the ability of the Big Apple fans to lift him on their shoulders may come into play.
It sure as heck could matter against Roger Federer in a potential semifinal clash, if both make it that far. A repeat of the epic Wimbledon final the pair shared this summer would be a raucous and emotionally charged occasion, and while it can be regarded as misfortune for Roddick to be drawn in the same half as Federer, the world No. 1 is an obstacle that any prospective champion must expect to pass.
Roddick will always have support in Queens. He is, after all, the leading American player, and he has been for some time. As each U.S. Open rolls around, he is perennially seen as the best (and often only) hope for home glory in men's singles.
He also has the affectionate status that goes along with being a former champion here – the last one before Federer's streak of five straight, no less.
However, what Roddick needs is to generate real affection and belief among this crowd. That has sometimes been lacking for him.
New Yorkers have had their hopes dashed by the Texan more times than they care to remember. He has even been a source of frustration for a Flushing Meadows public that craves a home winner.
First was the defense of his title in 2004, when he was unseated by unheralded Swede Joachim Johansson in a five-set quarterfinal. The following year was an unmitigated disaster. A high-profile advertising campaign asked "Where's Andy's mojo?" before he lost it spectacularly during a first-round exit to Luxembourg's Gilles Muller in a trio of tiebreaks.
In 2006, Roddick made a run to the final before a comprehensive loss to Federer, who also took care of Roddick in the quarters a year later. Last year saw a quarterfinal defeat to Djokovic, a defeat Roddick would love to avenge midway through next week.
This year, Roddick has a prime opportunity to become "the" story of the tournament. By playing at night and in prime time, he and his game will be right in the crosshairs of the public radar.
Night sessions in Queens have an extra element of buoyancy, and Roddick needs to tap into that vibe. This is a tournament that is yet to really burst into life after three tame days. The 27-year-old can electrify Flushing Meadows if he hits top form.
He did so on opening night, blowing past Germany's Bjorn Phau. He lost only seven games in the straight-sets win, and he'll be looking for a repeat of that performance against Gicquel.
"I love the night sessions here,” Roddick said. "Late-night tennis is part of the Open, what makes it special.
"You get the crazies who stay until 1 a.m. There is something fun about that."
Some players prefer not to play at night, claiming that recovery from late nights and a lack of sleep can affect them later in the tournament.
But if Roddick can use the fun, the craziness and the special atmosphere to his advantage, he could be in for a dramatic run. Stay tuned.