- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

Andy Roddick plans to use the next three weeks to prepare for the U.S. Open, the usual approach for the top seed at this week’s Legg Mason Tennis Classic.

Once he gets there, he knows exactly what his chances are to win the event for the second time in three years.

“As good as anybody not named Roger,” Roddick said dryly.

That would be world No. 1 Roger Federer, who has dominated the game with virtuoso performances on nearly every surface and displayed a multi-faceted game that borders on artistry. The Swiss star has won five of the last nine Grand Slam events, including three straight Wimbledons and last year’s U.S. Open.

Federer upended Roddick in the Wimbledon final the last two years, and both emerged as Grand Slam contenders at about the same time. That has led to comparisons between the two stars, as well as plenty of questions for Roddick to answer about the rivalries — or lack thereof — among Federer and everyone else.

“Roger Federer has a mental and physical edge over everybody,” said Roddick, the 2001 Legg Mason winner who will face Giovanni Lapentti in the second round tonight. “I get singled out as a guy who has played him in a lot of the bigger matches. I’ve said he’s done to tennis what Tiger Woods did to golf a couple years ago, just forcing us to be better players.

“I’m sure if you ask Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and those guys if they’ve improved because of Tiger, they’re going to say yes because they’ve been forced to. That’s kind of what I see Roger doing to tennis right now.”

It’s not as if Roddick hasn’t enjoyed a solid season. He has won titles at San Jose (hardcourt), Houston (clay) and Queen’s Club (grass), and he reached the semifinals at the Australian Open.

Then again, he failed to make it out of the second round of the French Open for the fourth straight year. And after needing to win a pair of five-setters on the way to the Wimbledon final, Roddick was efficiently dismissed in three sets by Federer.

“It’s not an excuse,” Roddick said. “I’m not happy with the fact there’s someone out there who’s better than me right now, and I’m definitely not using it as a crutch. I’d love more than anything to have a Wimbledon title under my belt or something else, but at the end of the day I come out of a match thinking I played pretty well and I got beat.”

Roddick has taken some time off since Wimbledon, opting only to play at Indianapolis two weeks ago. After a couple of sluggish performances, he was ousted in the quarterfinals by eventual winner Robby Ginepri.

After another week off, Roddick comes to an event where he owns a 13-3 career record and reached his first ATP quarterfinal (2000). He won’t have to contend with Federer at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park, nor will he have to topple Andre Agassi. The five-time champ withdrew hours after winning the Mercedes-Benz Cup in Los Angeles on Sunday.

“I can’t say I’m shocked about it,” Roddick said. “It’s kind of been a thing with him. He knows best and that’s why he’s been able to play until 35 years old. He’s played at a high level that long, so he knows his body best and obviously he’s managed it pretty well. That’s why he’s able to put up results like [Sunday].”

Agassi’s withdrawal leaves Roddick as the decided favorite in a field that also includes third-seeded Tim Henman and fourth-seeded Radek Stepanek.

Still, this event — along with tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati in the next two weeks — is about more than winning in the short-term to Roddick. He has reached the quarterfinals four straight years at Flushing Meadows, and a long run later this summer likely will produce another meeting with Federer.

“I’m pretty good at calling a spade a spade, and if anything it makes me work harder,” Roddick said. “I’m not going to sit here and say I’ve played as well as he has over the last two years. The facts just don’t add up. I know I’m doing everything in my power to be the best player I can be right now. I’m working harder than I ever have, and I’m still pretty good. There’s some upside there.”

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