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Roddick feeling right at home

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Perhaps it is appropriate that a man married to a world-renowned swimwear model should have his waistline scrutinized more than any other tennis player.

Andy Roddick's physical condition has been one of the hot topics of the tennis year, with the world No. 5's winter weight-shedding being credited with his resurgence in 2009.

It is hardly surprising. Roddick sweated out 15 pounds during a torrid workout regimen under new coach Larry Stefanki at the turn of the year, and he has proceeded to lay down the gauntlet to the men above him in the rankings in the kind of aggressive fashion few thought he still had in him.

Roddick reached the No. 1 world ranking as a 21-year-old but has fallen off the elite pace in recent years – something two years of working with tennis legend Jimmy Connors had been unable to rectify.

Many questioned his commitment to training as his fitness levels slipped behind those of Roger Federer and the seemingly inexhaustible Rafael Nadal. But Stefanki seems to have reinjected life into Roddick's career, putting bite back into his ground strokes and helping him amass a 46-12 record this year, complete with the Memphis indoor title.

If Roddick is to sign off the Grand Slam campaign in style by making a deep run at the U.S. Open next week, however, it will be his mind rather than his body that will have withstood the most strain.

July's Wimbledon final was an epic, a mesmerizing slugfest of spectacular serving as Roddick and Federer exchanged artillery deep into the west London murk. Roddick was close to perfect, holding his serve time and again on Centre Court, with one booming delivery after another. Then, after 256 minutes and 37 consecutive holds, his serve finally cracked, and dreams of glory on the hallowed turf of the All England Club frittered away in an instant.

"It was a hard one to take," Roddick said. "But any time you get to a Slam final and play like that, you have to be playing pretty well."

For Roddick, the close-but-not-quite-enough performance at Wimbledon serves not as a discouragement but an inspiration.

"I am looking at it as a new beginning rather than something that will finish me," he said. "I am very motivated for the Open and I'm ready to go.

"I want to end the year with a major under my belt. I don't want to sit back here and be satisfied that I have made some improvement. That's not enough for me."

Roddick faces a mighty challenge, though, if he is to add another Grand Slam trophy to his 2003 U.S. Open victory.

While the draw at the quarterfinal stage has been kind – with a potential matchup against Novak Djokovic instead of Federer, Nadal or Andy Murray – there still is a strong possibility that Roddick would have to face Federer in the semis should they both advance.

The five-time reigning U.S. Open champion has an imposing record against Roddick, having won 19 of their 21 career meetings – including that Wimbledon marathon. But before Roddick sit some tricky potential encounters, with the chance to meet Dmitry Tursunov in the second round and much-improved Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in the fourth.

Roddick will be in the spotlight throughout, perhaps even more so than in recent years. His tennis is back on track, and there is the small matter of his recent marriage to cover girl Brooklyn Decker to keep him in the news.

But for Roddick, it is all about the tennis – at least once some pretournament publicity events, including an appearance on the "Late Show with David Letterman," were completed.

His staple answer of "I want to be part of the conversation," wheeled out every time he is quizzed about his goals and ambitions, has rarely rung truer.

In New York, Roddick – who turns 27 on Sunday – must contend with the added focus that comes along with being the leading American player and only legitimate U.S. threat. With James Blake plummeting down the rankings and Sam Querrey still with some way to go before breaking into the upper echelon, it is Roddick or no one for the U.S. men's challenge.

Yet while the critics were content to write him off as a one-Slam wonder at this time last year, the rejuvenated game and mentality he has brought to the table make another shot at glory seem far more feasible.

“People are going to be looking at what I'm doing as the No. 1 American,” he said. "That is human nature and you can't do anything about it. It is actually a privilege, to have your nation rooting for you at your home Slam.”

Having forced himself back into the equation among the very best and with his game ticking over smoothly, Roddick senses he may never get a better chance than this year.

"I think the top six men have opened up a gap," he said. "The top four are always there, and myself and Juan Martin del Potro have shown we can live at that level.

"I just want to be part of the conversation. It is a pretty simple way to describe how I want to be; I have used it before.

"It just means that I am always going to be a contender, always one of those group of guys with a shot, and I believe that if I give myself enough chances I am going to win some things."

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