Tennis

September 10, 2006

Jimbology 101

After a summertutorial with Jimmy Connors, his new coach, Andy Roddick made a run into Week 2of the U.S. Open

On the surface,it seemed like a match made in hell: the floundering, hypersensitive, mouthystar and the inexperienced, hypersensitive, mouthy legend. Plenty of eyebrowsshot up when Andy Roddick hired Jimmy Connors as his coach in July, and youcouldn't walk through the grounds at the 2006 U.S. Open without hearingmurmured predictions of the break to come: Jimbo will get bored; A-Rod willfeel neglected; the combustible mix will blow, leaving a residue of nastyquotes and ill feeling. But for the moment? Connors, it turns out, is the bestthing that's happened to Roddick in years.

Just in time,too. Since Roddick won his only major, the 2003 U.S. Open, his career hasspiraled downward. By last spring he had burned through coaches Brad Gilbertand Dean Goldfine, and after a third-round loss at Wimbledon, theonce-preeminent American player of his generation fell out of the top 10 forthe first time since October 2002. But after persuading Connors, who had nevercoached, to break his self-imposed exile from the game, Roddick made the finalin Indianapolis and in August won his first title of '06, in Cincinnati. OnMonday he disposed of Benjamin Becker 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 to bull his way into theU.S. Open quarterfinals. "The biggest difference is in Andy's footwork andcourt positioning," says former No. 1 Jim Courier. "Those are thingseveryone he's worked with-Pat McEnroe in Davis Cup, Brad, Dean-said he neededto [improve]. Jimmy's broken through. He's gotten Andy to actually doit."

Connors doesn'ttravel with Roddick full-time, leaving that to John Roddick, Andy's brother andthe former tennis coach at Georgia. Connors's role is to spot the gaps inRoddick's game and tell him. "I was scared, because I didn't know what toexpect," Roddick said on Monday. "You hear things and you knowsomeone's reputation. I think we were both taking a leap of faith, just hopingthat something would click."

"I never everthought I would [coach]," the 54-year-old Connors said last week."Maybe I didn't feel like I wanted to give what I can to anybody. It didn'tgo to my kids." But with an instructional DVD on the market and a book inthe works, Connors has been edging his way back into the tennis spotlight.Roddick first called him while on a train from Paris to London in May, and asthe two got to know each other, Connors saw something in Roddick that sealedthe deal: a bit of himself, one man battling the world.

"I've beenkicked in the teeth more times in tennis than the law ought to allow,"Connors says. "I know what that feels like, and that kid doesn't deserveit. He's too great a player, and he's too American to take that kind ofhammering. To get his confidence back is an important part of it."

Can thepartnership last? Connors raves about Roddick's receptivity. But it will taketime to get used to the sight of Connors cringing and cheering in a courtsidebox. "Nothing is like being out there and playing and performing andwinning-nothing," Connors says. "But to have an interest in the player?The nerves and everything that goes with it? Seeing what he's learned and howhe's done it? That's the second best thing to playing. I think."

ARAVANE REZAï

From Camping ToCaviar?

Aravane Rezaï'simprobable run through the first week of the U.S. Open began with a bet. The19-year-old Frenchwoman, born to Iranian immigrants, had hoped to bring alongher coach and father, Arsalan. But he couldn't get a U.S. work visa because ofhis Iranian citizenship, so her brother and hitting partner, Anauch, steppedin. Aravane, who reached the third round of the French Open in May, bet her oldman she could go even further in Flushing with her brother by her side.

Her gamble paidoff. The 96th-ranked Rezaï upset top 25 players Anna-Lena Groenefeld and MariaKirilenko to make the fourth round of the Open, where she lost to No. 5 ElenaDementieva. "I try to impose my game," says Rezaï, whose 5'5" framebelies her punishing ground strokes and abundant confidence.

Rezaï's parentswent into debt to support her career, and her father's clashes with the FrenchTennis Federation kept her from receiving funding. Aravane even slept in acamper to save money at satellite tournaments. Her win over Kirilenko, however,guaranteed her a $72,000 payday. Rezaï imagines she'd have enjoyed this soonerhad she only been better funded. Still, she says, "if I had grown up in thebourgeoisie, I probably wouldn't play with the same rage."

 

TWO PHOTOSBOB MARTIN (2)SHADES OF THE MASTER Connors (inset) has Roddick moving like the Jimbo of old.
PHOTOANDREW GOMBERT/EPA (REZAï)A FIST FULL OF DOLLARS Rezaï earned her biggest paycheck at Flushing Meadow.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)