Correction to This Article
The column misspelled the name of tennis coach Larry Stefanki.

Harsh Wimbledon Defeat Has Shaped New Perception of Andy Roddick

Andy Roddick, right, displayed equal portions of grit and graciousness in losing to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final.
Andy Roddick, right, displayed equal portions of grit and graciousness in losing to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final. (Getty Images)
By Mike Wise
Friday, August 7, 2009

Moments after his heirloom at Wimbledon last month against Roger Federer, where he displayed equal portions of grit and graciousness in defeat, Andy Roddick's agent sent him an e-mail.

"Andy, you lost a very tough match and I know you're discouraged," the message from Donald Dell read. "But you won a nation."

Dell related the anecdote standing in his box seats at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic on Wednesday night, where the ProServ founder who once represented Arthur Ashe and Jimmy Connors saw his latest client easily move on to the tournament's quarterfinals in Roddick's first match, post-All England club.

"I really believe that, that Andy has a different image now," Dell added. "He's thought of now as an experienced American hope as opposed to the young kid who last won the U.S. Open" in 2003.

"You know, I thought he would dominate tennis in America for seven or eight years after that."

Heck, didn't everyone?

You didn't have to be a tennis nut to be enraptured by the beady-eyed, hyper-intense 21-year-old who reared back and served bullets at the 2003 U.S. Open. And won the whole thing, portending what was supposed to be a litany of Grand Slams.

Roddick then was what The Post's Liz Clarke evocatively described as the "golden-haired American with a booming serve and pulverizing forehand who would take up the mantle of Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and John McEnroe."

But then came Rafael Nadal and Federer and the kid's most formidable foe of all: Andy Roddick. He became his own critical parent after each lost point, mentally obsessing over something that happened in the first set while forgetting he was physically locked in a fourth-set tiebreak.

Until this past December, when Larry Stefanki helped fuse his mind and body, until they were in the same place at the same time, until Roddick's "inner belief" and "knowingness" was siphoned out by a renowned tennis coach.

And just like that, despite all our attempts to label him in his youth, Andy Roddick became the greatest American men's player post-Sampras-Agassi after all.

"Sometimes when you carry baggage along after a negative moment, it tends to eat you up inside," Stefanki said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. "That was Andy before he was ready to make that change, to let it go and move on to the next point.

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