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Since 1st March, 1999
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Oh, for a Roddick-Federer tie
- Andy wears his heart on his sleeve l The Swiss is a player to drool over
ChampionSpeak / John McEnroe
John McEnroe

Not long now to one of the match-ups of the tournament: Roddick vs Federer. It wouldn’t make a bad final, would it' I know there’s still work to be done by both, awkward customers to be removed from the path to the semis, but I’m getting excited about it, going just by the potentiality of it.

It has been interesting to watch the gradual rise of Andy Roddick since he joined my Davis Cup team in April 2000 as a hitting partner for Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi for a tie against the Czech Republic. It was the only time we ever had Pete and Andre together in the team — dream team, eh'

Pete would go out and do his thing which was to play not really that hard in practice. Whereas Andre came out all guns blazing, hitting balls as though he meant to put holes in them, and he was getting on Andy in a way.

Some people respond to that sort of thing, some don’t. But Andy was one of those prepared to listen and learn — and learn quickly. He’s a smart, charismatic guy who plays with some energy, wearing his heart on his sleeve.

A lot has been expected of this 20-year-old, ever since he became the world junior No. 1 three years ago and, then two years ago, broke into the top-20 among the seniors while still a teenager. The American public have been anxious to find someone to fill the shoes of Pete and Andre in time, and Andy has been the most obvious successor.

From the start of this year, at the Australian Open, he has shown he might be capable of doing just that.

For the first time, he came from two sets down to win a Slam match when he beat Russian Mikhail Youzhny in the round of 16. Then, in the quarters, he had to dig deep into his spirit and resolve to beat Younes El Aynaoui 21-19 in the longest fifth set in Slam history.

After that he reached a sort of plateau emotionally because I think physically, he had just beaten himself up. He had a wrist problem, didn’t play Davis Cup and had a few matches on clay — his least favourite surface — which didn’t go too well.

Losing in the first round of the French Open was obviously a disappointment.

Between the Australian and the French, I don’t think he was training hard — which may have been partly due to the injury — and rumbling away in the back of his mind was the idea that perhaps it was time for a coaching change.

The timing of his partnership with Brad Gilbert, as I wrote in these columns before the Championships began, could prove to have been inspirational. He had a week or so with Brad before Queen’s which proved very beneficial.

His win in the Stella Artois was definitely a huge mental boost, all the more so since he beat Andre, his idol, for the first time on way to winning it. He had been a set and a break up against him in the final at Houston in April but lost, so surviving a match-point to beat the world No. 1 this time must have been hugely satisfying. He also accounted for Greg Rusedski, which proved to him he could handle other big servers.

Queen’s is an ideal preparation for Wimbledon, it certainly was for me. I got to seven finals in a row there and during that time also reached the final of Wimbledon on five occasions. I get the feeling that Andy has found it a handy stepping stone.

Obviously he has the ideal weaponry for grass: a big serve and a big forehand. It took players as formidable as Goran Ivanisevic and Rusdedski to beat him in the last two years at Wimbledon. The way he avenged that defeat against the Briton on Wednesday showed how much he has improved in the last 12 months, because Rusedski had given him a grasscourt lesson here last year.

He could face one or two severe tests, though, before he gets to grips with the stylish Swiss Roger Federer. Paradorn Srichaphan, whom he meets next, is the kind of guy who can throw you a different look.

He’s not only tricky but also very solid. He hits the ball harder than people think and has been playing with a lot of confidence. I think his game is well suited to grass.

If Andy gets past the Thai, he could have Max Mirnyi waiting for him in the quarters. Mirnyi has got the firepower to match Roddick and could be a real obstacle.

Then it’s Federer — hopefully. This is a player to drool over, he has unlimited potential and this time I think he might even deliver, by which I mean reach at least the last four of a Slam which would be further than he has ever gone before but no further than he should be going.

There is something about Federer which reminds me of Sampras and not just in his ability to play the game. As his coach Peter Lundgren keeps telling me, “All he needs is to get one under his belt.” Until he does, there will be an element of self-doubt.

Self-doubt is something which may have been creeping into Lleyton Hewitt these past few months. His intensity is definitely not the same. He has almost gone from playing too much tennis to too little.

I think Hewitt has also made the same mistake which Michael Chang did, which was, because he was smaller than some of the other guys, he felt the need to hit his first serve harder. As a result, his first-serve percentage dropped significantly, just like the Australian’s. I don’t think it’s a winning formula.

On the positive side, I thought he handled defeat — it had to be the biggest in my 25 years’ association with Wimbledon — with great dignity. He took it like a real champion.

Greg Rusedski, on the other hand... Now I may seem like the last person in the world who should chastise anyone about ranting and raving on-court, but his behaviour really was inexplicable, even if there probably should have been a let-call. He had a complete meltdown. He’ll have to live with the ramifications of it and I think it’s pretty safe to say no one feels worse about it than him.

It probably betrayed some self-doubt about whether he could come back and win the match, about whether his body was up to it, and lastly how much it meant to him to win a match of such magnitude.

The difference between him and me was that I always felt that if I “lost it” I could get it back. It was that more than anything, I think, which used to infuriate my opponents.

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