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Andy's the man

Why Roddick is primed for a big year on the ATP Tour

Posted: Wednesday January 17, 2007 1:29PM; Updated: Wednesday January 17, 2007 1:48PM
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Posing with Justin Gimelstob, Andy Roddick takes a break from his grueling practice sessions in Hawaii just after Christmas.
Posing with Justin Gimelstob, Andy Roddick takes a break from his grueling practice sessions in Hawaii just after Christmas.
Courtesy of Justin Gimelstob
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In my past few columns, I've given a few updates on my rehabbing from back surgery and getting back on tour. But honestly, watching another of my fellow pros gear up for what will probably be a big year is almost as exciting as my eventual return to the court.

I believe Andy Roddick is going to have a huge 2007 -- starting with the Australian Open -- and I got to see the evidence first hand. About a month ago, I received a very timely and generous invite to practice with him at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai in Kona, Hawaii. Not a bad place to prep for a major, right?

What I got to see there was pretty impressive. Along with fellow American phenom Sam Querrey, Roddick filled every day of his post-Christmas training regime with two tennis practices, a workout in the gym and tough uphill run back to his palatial digs on the resort's property.

On the court, Andy busted his butt to improve his transition game. His ability to bridge the gap between his penetrating ground strokes and the net is a part of his game that can and will improve. This will help him put more pressure on his opponents and is the best way for him to disrupt the rhythm of players like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Another thing that impressed me was Andy's desire and commitment to his fitness. He has always been a strong guy, but he was as fit and trim as I have ever seen him, which is of paramount importance with the soaring temperatures and brutal physical demands in Melbourne.

Andy seems inspired by his new coach, Jimmy Connors, and confident in the team he has around him. Roddick's older brother, John -- who assists in coaching duties -- and trainer, Doug Spreen, really understand Andy on and off the court. They also get that comfort level is an incredible asset when a player is confronted with the challenges and adversity of life on the tour.

Beyond that, there's nothing like a confidence booster to start your year. Roddick won his opening tournament of '07 last week at the Kooyong Classic, a warmup to the Aussie Open. It was only an exhibition, but Roddick beat his bugaboo of an opponent, the mighty Federer, in the final. A month ago at the Masters Cup, Roddick couldn't close out Federer and collapsed after taking a lead. The turnaround at the Kooyong will certainly give Andy confidence and the belief that he can do it again at the Australian Open.

Still, Roddick definitely seemed a bit on edge during his first-round victory over Jo-Wilfred Tsonga on Monday, but first-round matches are always tricky in the sense that every court plays differently and it takes a match or two to feel comfortable and settled in a big tournament. Andy rebounded nicely on Wednesday against Marc Gicquel, and a terrific matchup with '05 champ Marat Safin is up next.

I fully expect Roddick to find his rhythm and contend for this title. If he turns in a big showing, the sky's the limit for '07.

Outspoken ATP tennis pro Justin Gimelstob is a frequent contributor to SI.com. He is currently recovering from back surgery after his 11th year on tour.