- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It was obvious Andy Roddick didn’t like the question.

“What aspects of your game do you think need improvement?”

Yikes. Roddick cringed and very politely responded that he’s pretty happy with his game right now.

True, he had just lost in the final of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. But it was to Juan Martin del Potro, the No. 6 player in the world. In a third-set tiebreak. And he hadn’t played in a month since losing a close and lengthy final to Roger Federer at Wimbledon.

Give the guy a break.

As the summer hard-court season reaches its zenith and the world’s top players gear up for the U.S. Open later this summer, Roddick is clearly a man to watch. The transformation of his game over the last year from decent to great has been remarkable to watch, and it appears as if he is just a whisper away from winning that second Grand Slam title that has eluded him since 2003.

Is he better than Federer and Rafael Nadal, the world’s top two players? Perhaps not. But he is capable of beating either one at any time. Maybe the wins will come this week in Montreal, when all three players will be on court for the ATP Tour Masters 1000 event. Or maybe it will come in Flushing Meadows, where Federer will be seeking his sixth consecutive title and Nadal will be going after the only major he has yet to win.

Federer will be the prohibitive favorite heading into the U.S. Open, but the storylines leading into the U.S. Open are abundant. Will Federer be in top form after his wife gave birth to twins last month? Is Nadal healthy and in shape after skipping Wimbledon to rest his balky knees? Is Andy Murray poised to break through with a major win? What’s the deal with Novak Djokovic?

And for the first time in years, Roddick doesn’t appear like the only hope for the American men. Big-serving John Isner looked sharp in the District last week as he ran to the semifinals and nearly topped Roddick, his health apparently restored following a bout with mononucleosis earlier this year. Isner’s close friend Sam Querrey also has been sharp all summer, winning in Los Angeles and reaching the finals in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Newport, R.I.

Last week, tennis fans were treated to perhaps the best Legg Mason in history. The decision to boost the tournament to ATP Tour 500-level status clearly paid off with a deep field. All week, crowds were at their peak, and there were compelling matchups even in the early rounds. The only hiccup came midweek when a technicality in ATP Tour rules forced Roddick’s first match from Tuesday to Wednesday, disappointing some fans who already had bought tickets in anticipation of seeing him play.

But those who didn’t see Roddick may have gotten a glimpse of del Potro, the lean Argentine with a well-rounded game that belies his youth. With back-to-back titles, del Potro has a chance to become a fan favorite in Rock Creek Park, assuming he is not deterred by the notion of more matches played in the District’s 100-degree heat.

Sunday’s Legg Mason final was a delight to watch, and it is even more exciting when you consider it is just a precursor to some more great tennis in the next month.

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