Aging Roddick succumbs to injury again
You call in coach Larry Stefanki to your home in Austin, Texas; you work your socks off all over Christmas to get rid of the year's strains, and pulls and niggles and you head off down to Melbourne full of hope.
And what happens? Andy Roddick gets out on Rod Laver Arena to play a night match against Lleyton Hewitt, the old foe he most enjoys competing against, in front of a packed house and bam -- the hamstring goes.
Partially because of the crowd and the occasion and the competitor's hatred of giving in, Roddick played on for a set and a half before bowing out of the Australian Open at 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 down.
Before the injury happened when he slipped during a second-set rally, he had been in control. But, after returning from a medical inspection in the locker room, there was no way he was going to be able to overcome a fighter of Hewitt's caliber.
"It's a miserable, terrible thing being out there compromised physically," said Roddick, fighting back the tears in his press conference. "I could stand there and hit balls but any extension over 60-70 percent was impossible. It's frustrating because you can do all the right things, like have treatment every single day at home during training and then have this happen."
Roddick did admit that the hamstring had been troubling him in a minor way during December but that he thought it had cleared up. "This is not the time for clarity of thought," he said, "but I have to realize I had 10 years of pretty much a clean slate and I have to be grateful for that. But these past two years have been really difficult, mentally more than anything."
Hewitt, with his big toe injury and foot surgery being just the most recent of his physical problems, has been there and knows what Roddick was going through. "It's hard, he's a great competitor -- he would have hated pulling out," Hewitt said.
But, even so, Hewitt was heartened by his own performance because he felt he struck the ball well in trying circumstances. "It's not easy playing an injured opponent," he said. "Especially against someone who serves big like Andy. You've got to keep on top of your game and I managed to do that."
Hewitt will be fully tested next time out, when he plays big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic.
A little while earlier, out on Court 3 on a cool, blustery evening, Sloane Stephens did as well as she knew how against the former US and French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and went down 7-6, 7-5. The score suggests that the veteran Russian had to fight for her victory and she did.
Her 19-year-old opponent stayed with her during numerous hard-hitting rallies, showing with every raking drive that she is becoming strong enough and good enough to live with players at the top. Stephens broke serve, lost her own and kept fighting. The match could have taken a different course had a blatantly bad call at 4-4 in the breaker not gone against the American when a Russian volley that fell an inch wide was called good.
"But that's how it goes," said Stephens with one of her big smiles. "Just move on. I thought I played as well as I could. She's obviously a great player and I gave her a match. I've just got to get used to playing that standard of tennis."
There is every indication that she will.