Luke and I have been listening to a song lately called Cowboy Logic (hat tip to the composers, Don Cook and Chuck Rains). The lyrics go like this:
There's a great American hero, we all look up to
When the times are hard and the chips are down,
he knows just what to do. . .
Now a cowboy's got a set of rules, that he lives by day to day
If you ask for his advice, he'll more than likely say:
If it's a fence, mend it. If it's a dollar bill, spend it
Before if burns a hole down in them jeans
It it's a load, truck it. If it's a punch, duck it.
If she's a lady, treat her like a queen.
That's cowboy logic, every cowboy's got it
It's in the way he lives his life and the songs he sings
That's cowboy logic, every cowboy's got it
He's got a simple solution to just about anything.
If it's a job, do it. Put your back in to it
'Cause a little bit of dirt's gonna wash off in the rain
If it's a horse, ride it. If it hurts, hide it
Dust yourself off and get back on again.
That's cowboy logic. . . (repeat chorus)
This is a serviceable comparison for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it works whether you love Roddick or, as some of the recurring motifs in the comments section here suggest, dislike him. A simple solution for everything. . .
I watched Roddick very closely for the first time in this tournament today, soaking up the sunshine in the good company of The New York Sun's Tom Perrotta and Tennis magazine's own Jon Levey. My main interest was in determining just how much influence, and what kind, Jimmy Connors has had on Roddick. My feeling is that while a great deal (much by Roddick himself) has been said about Jimbo's enthusiasm and passion for the game, that's all a warm and fuzzy smokescreen for some more elemental, technical and strategic changes in how Andy plays tennis.
For one thing, he's playing further inside the court - that's been observed. He also has improved his backhand; also acknowledged, although the degree to which he has incorporated the down-the-line backhand as weapon has not been sufficiently emphasized. More importantly, though, when I watched Roddick today I saw some signature Connors touches: Andy seems to be playing from more of a crouch these days, a la vintage Jimbo, especially on the forehand side. He also seems to be getting much more rotation on his shots. That is, he ends up landing square to the court (who of my own vintage doesn't have an image of Connors finishing like that?).
This is not mean feat, given the fact that Connors hit from a classic, almost exaggerated, closed stance (to better throw his entire weight into the shot, with rotation), while Andy is a New Generation, open stance guy all the way.
These improvements, none of them of the jump-off-the-court and bite you on the eye variety, still add up to a markedly improved player who now brings to his ground game some of the weight he's always been able to get into his serve, as well as a mostly-arm forehand.
There's generally a lot of anti-Andy sentiment on display at this website, stereotyping Roddick as a kind of uber-fratboy who does nothing but bash the ball. Unfortunately, if his name were, oh, Slobodan "Bobo" Zivojinovic (look him up), you wouldn't hear a peep out of the antis; Bobo was, after all, a European (although it's not like the sophisticated aesthetes of western Europe ever had much use for Yugoslavs/Croats, or other easterners, except as a novelty - regard the half-evolved European).
I don't mind, really, hypocrisy being too endemic an impulse to get all worked up about. Besides, Cowboy Logic doesn't really include embracing dictates from any elitist establishment. But I'll put this in a simple way a cowboy would understand: Rankings don't lie. You prefer prancing Gaston or Fernando Gonzalez (thank God he's not a Yank, he'd be cast as the ultimate ugly American!), feel free.
In any other sport, a guy with Roddick's gifts: huge power (think home run hitter), rawboned athleticism, consistency, and a good measure of grit, is treasured. You're free to put the cart of aesthetics before the horse of results as a matter of taste, but doing it doesn't entitle you to conclude that the record doesn't matter, or hold it against a guy with a great serve that he's putting up a first serve percentage of about 70 per cent, match-after-match, at a Grand Slam event. And to may way of thinking, Andy Roddick, for better or worse, is one of a small number of players who is going to meet Roger Federer thinking, "I can do this. I can win."
I'm going to cruise through my notebook, set-by-set, and see what I can mine out of it in the way of further observations:
At the end of the tiebreak (Youzhny wins it), Set 1, my notes say: "It could be a tough day for AR. Youzhny is moving the ball well and hanging in there on big points impressively."
At 3-love for Roddick, Set 2: "The comparison of Mikhail Youzhny and Miloslav Mecir is looking less accurate than it did the other day, because Youzhny lacks the wonderfully minimal, short strokes of Mecir. That probably explains why he hasn't matched Mecir's results. . ."
At 5-love for Roddick, Set 2: "It's hard to appreciate just how hard it must be for these guys to maintain a high-level of focus and emotional energy, especially when they've just won - or lost - a tiebreaker. Pretty sure it's much harder than it looks, and the guy who does it best, RF (anyone care to guess who that is?) makes it look like a snap."
At 1-0, Set 3: "Roddick complains about Youzhny stepping out of the batter's box just as he starts his toss. Valid beef."
At 2-2, Set 3: "Roddick holding easily."
At 6-5, Youzhny, Set 3: "Roddick his holding easily, and he has chances - 15-30, 30-all - on almost every Y service game. But he isn't breaking the guy. It must be eating at him."
(note: I asked Roddick about this in the presser and his reply was: Yeah, it as tough. I felt like I was making him work a lot more. I don't feel like I was playing bad points on break points, he would just kind of step it up. I didn't feel like it was - it was almost unfair to be a breaker in that third set and have it be decided that way because I felt I was getting the better of him for the better part of the match.
It's the way it is. I just worked through it. I felt like I was gonna get my opportunities. And luckily, in the third set I was able to - sorry, the fourth set - I was able to bust.)
Changeover, Youzhny leading, 6-5, Set 3: "Blitzkrieg Bop comes on. NYPR rules! Wherever you are, Joey, we miss you!"
3-3 in the tiebreaker, set 3: "How hard it must be to be coming back from a slump, and have some guy all over you, knowing that he's thinking, 'I've got to be getting to him. He hasn't played that well most of the year. All I've got to do is keep the pressure on. . ." and knowing that thinking about what he's thinking is a pretty good way to lose your focus and turn it into a semi-self-fulfilling prophecy."
Roddick up two sets to one, Youzhny serving first game of set 4: "Break point for Roddick, but Youzhny gets a forehand let-cord winner when Andy has the point won. Is this going to be the point of the match?"
At 1-1 set 4: "Hey, whatever happened to the old-fashioned slice serve? It seems like it's all about the flat (or semi-flat) one, or the kicker. How I remember those viciously swerving slices that Arthur Ashe and John McEnroe once used to such good effect. But of course, they would attack behind those serves, knowing all they had to do was guard the line."
At 3-3, in set 4: "I'm watching two wonderful Christians beating each other to a pulp for the privilege of being thrown in with the lion."
At 3-3, set 4: "Roddick wins game on apparent ace, Youzhny challenges. Roddick mutters in his direction and throws in a glare, then sits down and watches the replay, confident it's changeover time. He's right. Ace. The crowd loves it. Guess he really is channeling Connors."
At 0-40, set 4: Youzhny serving, flubs forehand, Roddick bellows when he gets the break."
At deuce, Roddick serving for the match, set 4: "Youzhny brushed off three match points, and he's working the crowd in the left-hand corner. The crowd generally is pro-Roddick, but not excessively or obnoxiously so."
Game, set, match, Roddick. Bring in the lion. Or, in this case, the mustang.