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Summer of close calls for Roddick


Maybe Andy Roddick hasn't recovered as well as we all think from his loss at Wimbledon. Look at the losses he has had since then. He lost two tight matches to Juan Martin del Potro, in Washington, D.C., and Montreal. I think the one in D.C. ended in a third-set tiebreak. He lost to Sam Querrey in Cincinnati in two tiebreak sets and now to John Isner in a fifth-set tiebreak. I get the feeling when things get close in the end, he just doesn't have the confidence to pull it out. What do you think of his losses?-- Beth D., Brooklyn, N.Y.

• Spare a thought (or at least a beer) for Roddick here. He loses the Wimbledon final 16-14 in the fifth set. Then he loses at the next major 7-6 in the fifth set. Oh, and in between, he loses one match 7-6 in the third set, one match 7-5 in the third set and another one 7-6, 7-6.

If there's any positive takeaway, I suppose it's this: The matches were tight, but it's not as though Roddick choked. I didn't sense a lack of confidence or belief. He competed well -- against booming players -- and just came up short. More distressing: Roddick played so well from the baseline at Wimbledon, especially against Andy Murray and Roger Federer. Granted, Isner, Querrey and del Potro (Roddick's three hard-court conquerors this summer) don't give you much rhythm, but where was that complete game, the shored-up backhand, the variety? The Roddick of sets one and two Saturday looked a lot more like Roddick of 2005 than Roddick of July 2009.

Roddick was deflated but typically rational in defeat. (And he apologized for leaving the court without acknowledging the crowd.) What can he do other than finish the year strong, tinker in what passes for an offseason and give it a shot in Australia? The fates sure owe him.

Watching the prematch interviews in the tunnel is a mind-numbing experience. Thank heavens Maria Sharapova is out. I couldn't possibly have listened even one more time to her in her breathy monotone talking about how happy she is just to be competing in the Open. I realize that media consultants make their money teaching athletes to speak in cliches, but doesn't her apparent vacuousness detract from her commercial appeal? She could always launch a campaign for Dos Equis as the least interesting woman in the world.-- Brian, New York, N.Y.

• Hey, here's a great idea: At the very last moment before athletes are about to go compete, let's accost them and ask some inane question. "I know the SAT is about to start, Skippy, but, real quick, how do feel about your geometry skills?" "Ma'am, I know you're in labor, but before you give birth, how's your time been here at St. Vincent Hospital?" "I know you're about to start your monologue, Mr. Letterman, but how was the drive in from Connecticut?" In the best of times, some of these athletes have little to say. What insight can you possibly glean asking them a question at this juncture?

Jon, you must get this question a lot, but don't you think the tiebreak in the fifth set at the Open must be removed? I mean, it seems unfair that someone could leave his heart and soul on the court for five sets and lose it all because of one point. I'm not just saying this because I'm a die-hard Andy Roddick fan, I promise!-- Pat Montivideo, Uruguay

• I have no problem with the tiebreaker. Happens in all sports: The smallest play makes the biggest difference. I do, however, think that, in the absence of tiebreaks, Roddick is still in the tournament.

So, they set a one-day attendance record Friday. I was there Tuesday and Thursday and I think there were way too many people on the grounds. The USTA can set a new attendance record anytime it wants by printing and selling more grounds passes that entitle the holder to go anywhere except Ashe. Where is the fire marshal in all this? What has been your experience?-- Peter Richard, Hampton Bays, N.Y.

• As Yogi Berra said, "It's so crowded no one goes there anymore." Yes, it's crowded, sometimes unpleasantly so. But it beats the alternative. Also, the traffic patterns are funny. If there's a gripping match on Ashe (or when a magnetic star plays), the rest of the grounds are quite pleasant. There are other times when Ashe is empty and the grounds are zoo-like. Overall, it's great atmosphere and, dare I say, a great value. Think about the folks Saturday who had a day pass and watched Federer-Lleyton Hewitt followed by Sharapova-Oudin and Roddick-Isner, and were entitled to stay until about 10 p.m.

Jon, any thoughts on Daniel Koellerer? I was at his first two U.S. Open matches. He screams and swears at chair umpires. He gives a foul attitude to ball boys. He tries to turn tennis into the WWE. It's a sight to see, but shouldn't the ATP do something about his behavior?-- Jon, New York, N.Y.

• You know, before this tournament, I had made a point of watching Patricia Mayr of Austria, whom one player told me is getting quite a rep for her antics. I watched Mayr's first-round match against Aggie Radwanska and was disappointed. Nothing out of the ordinary. However, another Austrian, Koellerer more than compensated. In his second-round match, Koellerer was a few points from winning when he chucked his racket in anger. With the retirement of Marat Safin, the tennis "character quotient" took a hit. We have a new prospect.

Let me first state that I heart Oudin. But did Maria take a slight shot at Oudin in this postmatch interview response?

Q. There's been a lot of talk about how some of the women in the game weren't mentally tough, were cracking. Do you think it's good to see a young name out there that obviously has a lot of guts?

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Maria Sharapova: Yeah. I mean, I think there's a difference between somebody that's pumping their fist when they're winning a point or really grinding it out when they're down and coming back from behind. When they win a point, shout, yell, you know, pump their fist. But I think it's definitely a good sign and good to see that somebody can, you know, turn things around.

Oudin's tenacity is clearly the most valuable asset on her competitive balance sheet. Are we OK with her self-exhortations on individual points (for the record, I am)?-- B, Santa Monica, Calif.

• "Maria full of grace" was the subtitle of Sharapova's press conference. I detected no slights toward Oudin. Quite the opposite. I think Sharapova respected how well Oudin competed, given the circumstances. She did, however, take a swipe at Jelena Jankovic.

Quick clarification so that no more people than necessary think I'm a jackass: In my remarks from a recent mailbag about a lack of class from Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic in postmatch interviews, I was not referring to Jankovic's comments/behavior here at the U.S. Open (I'm not even sure she had lost yet when I posted my comment). I was referring to the French Open a few months back when she lost to Oudin and was very dismissive in Williams-like fashion of Oudin's ability.-- Nate Stafford, Ellington, Conn.

• Kindly let the record (and Google) reflect: Nate Stafford of Ellington, Conn., is not a jackass.

Am I the only person who found some of Melanie Oudin's "Come on" screams distasteful during the Sharapova match?-- Richard McCarthy, Wichita Falls, Texas

• In a word: Yes.

I've heard several commentators mention that Dinara Safina will one day win a Slam, that she's too good not to. I have the opposite opinion -- mentally, she's not fit to win a Slam, it will eat into her confidence and we'll see her start to lose more often (a la Ana Ivanovic) and drop from No. 1. Thoughts?-- Jack, Connecticut

• I'm really trying to avoid piling on Safina. Here's a player who outworks most everyone, made a mid-career jump and is admirably candid assessing her weaknesses. I wish Safina well and wonder if the best thing to happen to her will be losing the top ranking.

Giving LeGarrette Blount the same midterm grade as struggling sweetheart Ana Ivanovic? C'mon, teach, you got that wrong. (Yet I agree entirely that the McEnroes should not be allowed in the booth together. The most sophisticated pairing is Chris Fowler/Mary Carillo -- intelligent, humorous at appropriate times, and skilled at broadcasting.)-- Joey Rickels, Charleston, S.C.

• We're grading on the Memphis basketball curve here. Surprised how universal the McEnroe sentiment has been. You like John. You like Patrick. You don't like them together.

Now that Dinara Safina has added more fuel to the rankings debate, here's something to consider: Since changing the ranking system at the end of 1996 (when Steffi Graf ended No. 1 despite playing only 11 tournaments), the WTA's own choice for Player of the Year has differed from the official year-end No. 1 seven of 12 times. Before the change, there were only two discrepancies in 20 years and none since 1980. So, in my opinion, this "controversy" over Safina has been a long time coming and is being unfairly blamed on her. But isn't it time they made some adjustments?-- Brian, Vancouver, B.C.

• Very interesting stat. Again, remember that the WTA is an odd marriage of players and tournaments. The rankings need to reflect merit, but they also need to provide an incentive for players to enter events.

Little-noticed side effect of Safina's loss -- Melanie Oudin now needs to beat at least one non-Russian to win the tournament.-- Dave, San Diego

• Does Ukraine come close enough? My gut is that Kateryna Bondarenko makes the semifinals.