Roddick's rebuilding finally makes him a threat on clay

It could be his rigorous preseason fitness regime that saw him shed 15 pounds. It could be a fortunate draw. Or a general sense of well-being following his nuptials. Whatever it is, something has cured Andy Roddick of his French Open phobia and turned him into a threat on clay.

Roddick reached the round of 16 in Paris for the first time in eight attempts Saturday, racing past Marc Gicquel 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 for his third consecutive straight-sets victory.

But the 26-year-old American isn't going to win the tournament, barring a miracle of epic proportions. Even getting past his next opponent, Frenchman Gael Monfils, would be a tremendous achievement, and the dubious prize for that would be a likely showdown with Roger Federer. However, Roddick's performance in Paris can be taken as a highly positive sign for the state of his mind and his game going into his favorite part of the season -- on grass.

Roddick's physical reserves appear to be higher than at any point of his career, and the hard toil put in with trainer Larry Stefanki toward the end of 2008 seems to have worked wonders. He also is thinking more about his game, and instead of an approach relying on brute force he has been able to grind down opponents and cut out foolish errors. Gicquel, a solid player ranked 46 in the world, had no answer whatsoever and was summarily swept aside.

Roddick perhaps has more to gain here than anyone, having missed the tournament 12 months ago. Even though he has been unable to live up to the promise he showed when winning the U.S. Open as a 20-year-old in 2003, Roddick deserves much credit for the way he is trying to breathe new life into his game.

To bridge the gap between himself and the Big Three of Rafael Nadal, Federer and Andy Murray is asking too much, yet there is no reason why Roddick should not be confident of strong runs at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Unlike a couple of years ago, Roddick is no longer seen as a soft touch and prime fodder for an upset.

Part 1 of his rebuilding is already in place.


Photo courtesy of Associated Press

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