- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Andy Roddick wants you to know he is OK.

Really, he is.

A month after losing a memorable marathon final to Roger Federer at Wimbledon, the world’s fifth-ranked player said he’s more than ready to get back on the court and prepare for the U.S. Open.

The banged-up body? Feeling good. The psyche? Don’t worry.

His appearance in the District for the Legg Mason Classic this week is part of a big, largely positive journey that began in December when he decided to buckle down and reshape his game.

“One thing I’ve been very conscious of this year is that it’s a continual process, and this is part of that process,” said Roddick, the tournament’s top seed, who will open against Robby Ginepri or Benjamin Becker on Wednesday. “I’m having difficulty separating Wimbledon from the rest of the year. And I know everyone’s focusing on that, but I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of the things I was doing at Wimbledon from January forward.”

Indeed, there is little doubt that Roddick is having one of his best seasons to date, and even he acknowledges that he is now a better player than when he won his only Grand Slam title as a 21-year-old at the U.S. Open in 2003. He is lighter, faster and more aggressive. His groundstrokes are more penetrating. And in terms of endurance, he has few equals.

The transformation came at the end of last year, when, after a lackluster finish to the season, he signed on with new coach Larry Stefanki, who had shown success in working with players of all sorts. Together, the two constructed a game plan that included an emphasis on fitness and nutrition.

“You’re either moving forward or you’re moving backwards, and the last six months of last year, I felt like I was maybe moving the wrong way,” said Roddick, who lost 15 pounds in an effort to improve his on-court movement. “I dealt with some injuries, and then you start dealing with self-belief and you come back and you take it on the chin a couple times… but I’m going to be out here. I’m going to be playing tennis, so it was a matter of, ‘What avenues haven’t I explored?’ ”

The results were almost immediate. He reached the finals of the Qatar Open, then outlasted third-ranked Novak Djokovic in 110-degree heat to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open. He won at Memphis, had a best-ever fourth-round result at the French Open and had solid results throughout the spring.

Then came Wimbledon, where he took the mighty Federer to five sets before falling 16-14. It was a loss that he admits stings to this day, and he has spent the past month recovering both physically and mentally. But he is also aware that he was a part of a match that will go down in tennis lore.

“That part of it is never lost on me, even 10 seconds after the final I still realized it was a pretty special thing,” he said. “Normally you don’t get hurt by tennis losses. You’re mad, you’re angry, you’re this or that. But yeah, that hurt. But at the same time, it’s still a pretty good existence to be able to go out and play matches like that.”

Roddick, however, bristles a bit at the newfound affection from American fans and the media, who have labeled him as everything from the hot new kid to washed up.

“I’ve pretty much been portrayed as everything you can at this point in my career,” he said. “The meat and potatoes of who I am hasn’t really changed that much, but I’ll take the good coverage while I can because I know it’s fleeting.”

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