Thursday, April 3, 2008

"My buddy, my buddy" - random friends


You wouldn’t think of Andy Roddick and Terrell Owens as kindred spirits: Owens is the 34-year-old Dallas Cowboys star in the rough-and-tumble world of pro football, Roddick is the 25-year-old star in the genteel sport of tennis.

But here they were this week, playing cards before Roddick’s match at the Sony Ericsson Open, laughing it up like old friends.

“I wish a lot of the public saw what I saw,” Roddick said Wednesday after a morning practice. “He’s a pretty friendly guy, he’ll meet people — friends of mine — who he doesn’t really even know, and he’s nothing but nice and sweet to them. I wish the public saw a little bit more of that side of him.”

And Owens, the inimitable T. O., would like the public to more consistently see the Andy Roddick who on Tuesday plowed through the last two sets of his match against Julien Benneteau. After dropping the first set, 4-6, Roddick dominated Benneteau, 6-3, 6-2.

After that first set, Roddick went into immediate overdrive, seemingly trying to win the entire match on each point. “He was really pressing, trying to get some wins in there instead of letting things flow,” Owens said. “He’s on the cusp of really being that No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 guy. If he keeps pushing, letting the games come to him and try not to press so much during the matches, he’ll win. He just has to keep his focus.”

Owens said he met Roddick two years ago. “I guess we both kind of watched each other from afar,” he said, before adding: “We exchanged numbers. He has a guy out of Waco, Tex., does some biomechanics, who works on his body during his season to keep his body in shape. I use that same guy, John Patterson, during my football season.

“He keeps up with me, I try to keep up with him. Since that time we’ve kept in touch with each other and followed each other’s careers.”

What is intriguing about the Owens-Roddick relationship — aside from its apparent incongruence — is Owens’s connection to rising young stars searching for the secret of breaking through.

Two seasons ago at Seattle, Owens’s quarterback, Tony Romo, flubbed a snap for a field-goal attempt in a crucial playoff game. Dallas lost and Owens spent the off-season keeping Romo’s spirits up. Last January, Romo and his girlfriend, Jessica Simpson, took an ill-advised trip to Mexico before the Cowboys’ playoff game against the Giants. After the Cowboys’ stunning loss, Owens tearfully stood up for Romo.

In the time that Owens and Roddick have known each other, Roddick has been frustrated by his inability to regain the top spot in the rankings. Roddick said this hasn’t dominated his conversations with Owens.

“I don’t know if that’s come up too often,” he said. “I don’t like losing, and luckily I was able to win once when I was younger, but I think we’re both looking for that next step. Most people will say we’re pretty good players, but we both want to take that next step.”

This year at the Dubai Tennis Championships, Roddick announced that he was parting with his coach, Jimmy Connors, after two years.

Roddick is playing well, playing happy. He discouraged the notion that his happiness and good play are the a result of Connors’s departure. “It doesn’t have anything to do with Jimmy,” he said Wednesday. “Jimmy was great, I was happy with him also and I was thankful for his time. Personally, I’m at a good spot.”

On Monday, Roddick confirmed his engagement to Brooklyn Decker, a 20-year-old model.

Will this public pursuit of love be a help or a hindrance to Roddick’s pursuit of a consistent championship run?

Roddick had a breakthrough year in 2003; by season’s end, he became the first American since Andre Agassi in 1999 to finish the year at No. 1. The intervening years have been a maddening string of starts and stops. There were losses when victories were expected. He did not consistently meet even his own expectations. He seemed to try to power his way to the top and often ended up skewered like a bull running at a skilled matador.

More often than not, the matador in Roddick’s career has been his opponent on Thursday: the dreaded Roger Federer. Roddick has faced Federer 16 times in major tournaments and has won once. Federer has won the last 11.

“You have to knock those guys off and solidify yourself as a consistent No. 1 guy, night in and night out, refusing to lose, coming from behind and winning matches — that’s what Federer has done, that’s what Nadal has done,” Owens said. “Until Andy beats those guys two or three times, he’ll always be labeled as being on the cusp but never really getting to the top.”

Clearly, Federer is the mountain that Roddick must climb.

He gets another chance Thursday. T. O. will be watching.

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