Tennis

New version of Roddick fights on

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WIMBLEDON, England

The Andy Roddick who flamed out to Richard Gasquet in the Wimbledon quarters three years ago might not have been able to coolly repel another Frenchman, Michael Llodra 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (2) in the second round on Wednesday.

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That old version of Roddick lost control mentally after being up two sets and fell 8-6 in the fifth set. But not this version of the American, a guy who is not only mentally stronger but one who has more options when an opponent is making him uncomfortable. Roddick said that outside of his 16-14 five-set loss to Federer last year, it's the Gasquet fiasco that he would like to call a mulligan on.

“That one I had completely in my grasp and let slip,” he said. “Through the course of my career, I haven't let that many slip from positive positions. That one I let get away.”

But Roddick didn't allow Llodra to do the same, even though the lefty serve and volleyer was carving him up in the first set and also made a strong charge in the fourth. Roddick doesn't panic like he used to, not only because he's older and wiser and the age of 27, but because he's fitter and can employ different styles when called upon.

“I'm still learning all the time,” he said. ”Dropping the first set today, I kind of kept it together and stayed the course. Then when it turned, it turned quick. I was up 5-4 in the second, but he had been getting most of the looks. All of a sudden we're a set all. Probably the last couple years I've probably done a better job of match management."

In the first set, Llodra, who had won the grass-court title at Eastbourne coming into the tournament, was dinking, dunking and charging. He predictably came in off first serves, but partially due to the advice of his new coach, 2006 Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo, he was less than predictable coming into net on other points and frequently had Roddick guessing. Plus, he was able to chip the American's serve back into the court, move toward the net and as a result, was controlling much of the action.

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After winning the first set, Llodra held two break points on Roddick's opening service game, but missed a high, makeable forehand volley and the door was swung open. Roddick then decided to change tactics — he was no longer going to allow the Frenchman to smooth balls into the court off his serves, he was going to come in and take them out of the air.

That strategy worked to perfection as in the last three sets he won 16 of 24 approaches, and was 35 of 53 overall at the cords. Mahut came in more, but Roddick was the better player from the backcourt and returned with more meaning when it mattered most, hence the victory.

“I had to make an adjustment,” Roddick said. “In the first set, I played fine. The game he broke me was one of the best return games someone played against me. Off of my serve, I had to start coming in and serving and volleying behind it. He was dictating the way the points were going. So I think that was a key adjustment.”

During his title run in Miami, Roddick did the same in his semifinal victory over Rafael Nadal when he realized that he was too vulnerable from the backcourt and that Nadal was more than pleased to be yanking him around in long points. When he first started to incorporate a net game a few years back, Roddick could be passed time and time again, but his approach shots have more meaning now, he's very secure with his backhand volley and his forehand volley, while still shaky, is improving. Plus, he believes he can win matches from the front of the court, something he really didn't think he could do against elite players even three years ago, when he experienced his Gasquet nightmare.

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“It's just nice that I can go to that play not out of desperation, but because I think it's the right thing to do at the time,” said Roddick, who finished with 55 winners and 10 unforced errors. “I think that's a nice adjustment to be able to make now.”

Largely due to his dramatic and thrilling loss to Federer in last year's final, Roddick has become a fan favorite in London. He certainly doesn't want to be the sentimental favorite because of his emotional losses, but that's where he is now, sort of the U.S. version of Tim Henman, the tried and true former top five British player who could never scratch his way past the semifinals, but who won a number of heroic early-round matches.

Roddick is a different case, having reached the final three times, but he's never been able to pound his way past the great Federer. However, the lunch bucket fans can relate better to his super intense competitiveness than they can to Federer's cool and regal style.

“Whether it's right or wrong, they maybe appreciate the body of work that I've put together at this tournament. It's always gratifying and humbling as well,” said Roddick, who will play Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round. “You never feel like you're entitled to anything. They can choose whether or not to support you or not. The fact that they were vocal about it and have been since I've been back over here, it's a nice thing.”

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Two of Roddick's compatriots, Mardy Fish and Melanie Oudin could have used his savvy as they didn't compete or play well in disappointing losses to Florian Mayer and Jarmila Groth. Fish came into the tournament in fine form, having reached the Queen's final, while Oudin was salivating over the chance to turn her season around and repeat her fourth-round charge last year. Both will leave extremely disappointed. Overall, it was a lousy day for America, as qualifiers Shenay Perry and Brendan Evans also fell, Evans 6-4 in the fifth set to Albert Montanes.

Six-time champion Roger Federer continued to struggle, but dug deep once again and put down the zoning Serbian Ilija Bozoljac 6-3, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6. Federer's tight victory followed his five-set win over Alejandro Falla in his opening match, and clearly, he hasn't come anywhere near his top form yet. Belgians Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin also got through and are just one victory apiece from a highly anticipated fourth-round match up.

All of this occurred while John Isner and Nicolas Mahut were breaking every time record, game record, ace record, you name it, during their momentous struggle — suspended due to darkness at 59-59 in the fifth set. While there certainly were a few dramatic moments in the set, clearly, when two huge servers who are weak returners face off on grass, there's a strong possibility that neither will be broken and anyone who argues that the surface has been slowed down too much and that the balls are too heavy didn't take in enough of the match and watch that bomb-fest.

What Wimbledon, and the other two majors outside of the U.S. Open need is a fifth-set tiebreaker. It'll make for far more drama and would put an end to long, mind-numbing displays.

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