Roddick’s career takes another hit

Any talk with a great champion on the decline is never going to be fun. And the whole thing tends to seem even more like a wake when a player whose name still resonates around the world is ushered into Interview Room No. 2 as if he is already yesterday’s man.

Andy Roddick said he couldn’t care less which room he was in here at Roland Garros and one believed him. He had bigger things to worry about. After a disastrous week playing for the United States in Dusseldorf where he struggled to win sets let alone matches, Roddick was eliminated on Day 1 of the French Open by Nicolas Mahut, a Frenchman who doesn’t even consider clay his favorite surface.

The score was 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 – the third set representing a brief act of defiance from a proud player trying to stare down reality. Afterwards, Roddick was ready to accept what had transpired on Court Suzanne Lenglen on a perfect Parisian afternoon.

“I pretty much fell apart,” he said. “I was moving horrendously out there. I feel as if I was shuffling, hopping, slipping – really bad. I get exposed too easily out there on clay. If you are not set you cannot get much of a flow going. You can’t fake it out there. It’s tough to lie. My footwork was really bad.”

After his struggles with a hamstring injury after Miami – where he hit a momentary high by beating Roger Federer – there were all kinds of reasons for Roddick to skip the European clay and head for the green, green grass of England. Although he wouldn’t talk about how he felt physically or whether his Lacoste contract influenced his decision to come to Paris, Roddick remained stoic.

“I just lost to a guy who played better than me,” he insisted. “I made a choice to play, I played, I lost. That’s all I have to say.”

Roddick’s has no further plans other than to show up at the Queen’s Club in two weeks time and try to remember how he has won the Aegon Championships on four occasions. That, and Wimbledon and the Olympics in London three weeks later are the limit of his immediate ambitions.

“I want to play the Olympics,” he said firmly. One suspects America’s most consistent performer of the past decade might not be looking any further than that.

At the other end of the spectrum, there was a sense of starting again for Melanie Oudin who has struggled since her amazing breakthrough at the 2009 US Open with her run to the quarterfinals, cleaning up three top Russians, including Maria Sharapova, along the way.

A change of coach, a tournament win in Charlotesville, Va., and suddenly Oudin has a new view of life – bolstered today by a decisive 6-3, 6-3 victory over the experienced Swede Johanna Larsson. “It’s my first win ever at Roland Garros, so definitely a good feeling,” she said.

Although Oudin insisted that she never reached the point of giving up on the game as her ranking plunged, she admitted on being a little bit down on herself. But her two new coaches, Jorge Todero and Jay Gooding have obviously had a positive effect. “They’ve been great at really helping to boost my confidence,” she said. “I think that the biggest thing.”

Despite feeling nervous at the start of her match against Larsson, Oudin realized she needed to loosen up. “I definitely did after the first two games,” she said. “Then towards the end of the first set I think I won like 10 straight points and was kind of like cruising.”

Oudin, who needed a wildcard here because of her lowly ranking of 269, will now play Italy’s 21st-seeded Sara Errani, who defeated the Australian Casey Dellacqua 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Another American, Irina Falconi, finished strongly to beat a Romanian, Edina Gallovits-Hall, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 but Philippe Chatrier Centre Court was adorned during the final hour of the day by Venus Williams, resplendent in an elegant black and white dress, who overcame a strong challenge from a 19-year-old Argentinian newcomer Paula Ormaechea 4-6, 6-1, 6-3.

Ormaechea, ranked at 120 on the WTA computer, tried some moon balling in the first set to blunt the Williams power but it was a tactic that was never destined to succeed over the long haul and, once she had found her rhythm, Venus started blasting winners all over the court.