It's hard to understand how a golden-haired 22-year-old with millions in the bank for being one of the world's best at his chosen profession could develop a chip on his shoulder. But Andy Roddick has one -- the direct result of having been the best at his game (tennis) not two years ago.
Roddick's burden isn't simply that Switzerland's Roger Federer and Australia's Lleyton Hewitt have moved ahead of him in the world rankings. It's that Roddick finds himself quizzed, queried, prodded and probed at every turn about why his record against the world's No. 1 and 2 players is so poor (2-14); why he hasn't followed his first Grand Slam title, the 2003 U.S. Open, with a second; and why, despite diligent training, he hasn't been able to play his best tennis when it matters most.
Roddick's second-round Wimbledon victory Friday over Daniele Bracciali hardly qualified as toppling the world's finest or winning a Grand Slam. But given Roddick's current state of mind, it was every bit as significant. In defeating the Italian qualifier, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (7-3), 4-6, 6-3, in a match that had been halted for darkness Thursday, Roddick snapped an 0-5 streak in five-set matches and avoided what would have been his earliest exit in five Wimbledon appearances -- a loss, to the world's 120th-ranked player, that would have added endless fodder and new urgency to the line of questioning that irks him so.
"I wanted to prove something out there today, for sure," Roddick said afterward. "There was definitely a chip on my shoulder. It's not totally turned around -- but the more matches I win that are tough, the more you remember what it's like to do that. I think it was big to get through. It would have been a devastating loss."
While Roddick was playing catch-up in completing his second-round match, everyone else on the grass courts Friday was embroiled on third-round matches.
Californian Taylor Dent became the first American to advance to the round of 16, defeating Tomas Berdych, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3. That marks a career high for Dent, 24, son of former Australian touring pro Phil Dent. And it propels him into a fourth-round encounter with Hewitt, Australia's favorite son and Wimbledon's 2002 champion.
"He's Dent more than Aussie," Dent said, asked where his father's loyalties would lie in his son's next match. "He's going to want me to win out there. He'll be champing at the bit to tell me everything he knows."
The senior Dent ought to know plenty. He was in the Center Court stands Friday for Hewitt's match against American Justin Gimelstob -- not as his son's emissary, but as Gimelstob's coach.
Hewitt won, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 7-5. But if there's such a thing as a close straight-sets loss, this was it. Gimelstob contested every point with absolute abandon, hurling his battered 6-foot-5 frame onto the grass time and again to intercept Hewitt's blistering passing shots.
At 28, Gimelstob is keeping his career going on desire and cortisone (he has undergone 13 injections to tame raging back muscles). Against Hewitt, he compounded his ailments by aggravating a strained shoulder muscle during the 59-minute first set.
Gimelstob howled as a trainer worked on his arm -- massaging, stretching and bending it. But Gimelstob played on, explaining later that if it had been any tournament other than Wimbledon or the U.S. Open, he would have defaulted.
"Tennis has given me a lot and I've had a lot of great memories," he said. "I hope to try and get more. That's really what it is for me at this point: To try and get more great memories and to try and squeeze all the blood out of the stone there possibly is."
Roddick's aim is vindication.
He was last year's runner-up at Wimbledon, falling to Federer in a match that he controlled early. But the momentum shifted after play was halted by rain, and Federer charged back for his second consecutive Wimbledon crown.
Roddick's match against Bracciali was halted a second time Friday after 23 minutes of play -- this time, for rain. And, like the previous night, the momentum had just turned away from the American and in favor of Bracciali, who played fearlessly, as if determined to leave Center Court convinced he had spared nothing.
In a decade on the pro tour, Bracciali has never broken into the top 100. But if Roddick expected him to be cowed by his cannon-like serve (the fastest on record), he was mistaken. Bracciali had survived Ivo Karlovic's Wimbledon-record 51 aces in his first-round match. And he uncorked some booming serves of his own, despite standing just 5-9.
When play resumed Friday, all Roddick had to do to seal the victory was win one set. But Bracciali broke him in the seventh game to take a 4-3 lead, win the set and force a fifth.
That's when Roddick changed tactics, abandoning his comfort zone along the baseline and charging the net. He won 13 of 15 points at the net -- including a diving volley while serving at 4-2 that was the highlight of the match. Roddick explained: "I felt like if I did the right thing and maybe tried to be a little bit more aggressive, then things would go my way."