Stefanki Begins with Roddick
I wondered how the new coaching arrangement came about, so I asked Stefanki. Stefanki, 51, said he took the job coaching the USA’s top player for two reasons: One, because he believes the eighth-ranked player can win another major or two. And second, because he wants to work with an American as a stepping-stone to getting involved with the USTA junior development. “That’s why I did it more than anything,” said Stefanki. “And also because Andy was so motivated. There is not a dog in this guy. He may not hit it pretty, but he’ll go down fighting.”
Stefanki, who has coached a number of top players from John McEnroe to Marcelo Rios to most recently Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, said he first came across Roddick at an event in Key Biscayne when the Nebraska-born Texan was a teenager breaking onto the circuit. He and Roddick became casual locker room acquaintances through the years (as players and coaches from the same country often do) until Stefanki received a call from Roddick after the Masters Cup in Shanghai. Stefanki told Roddick and his camp that he wasn’t going to endure any vetting process if he was going to work with him. Either they wanted him or not. Not long after, they inked a two-year deal that will have the California resident traveling 25 weeks annually.
Stefanki called Roddick a “Boris Becker-type” player who can bludgeon opponents but can get tripped up if lured into long baseline rallies. Stefanki emphasized two areas where the 26-year-old Roddick needs to improve: His return of serve and his on-court balance. He said Roddick won only 29% of his break points in ’08 whereas in years past he’s been as high as 50%.
“He hasn’t punished guys enough off the second serve the last few years,” he said.
On footwork, Stefanki said the 6-2 Roddick must take smaller steps and balance himself better in order to use his lethal forehand as more of a weapon. He said Roddick still has the best serve in the game and needs to “inflict the serve,” “take more chances off the forehand and hit it flatter” and not “fall into a trap on the ground as far as staying back too much or rolling it into the court.”
Most of all, Stefanki said, Roddick needs to rededicate himself to an attacking style of play. A jack-of-all-trades won’t get it done. “You can’t be good at everything,” he said.
Mentally, Stefanki said the hyper-kinetic Roddick could probably tamp down his high-energy emotions at times, especially between points, where Stefanki says his new student revs at high RPMs. “He needs to slow down a bit and find an inner calm,” he said. “He feels uncomfortable when there are dead times between points. Mac was like that, but he revved slower.”
Overall, Stefanki was very upbeat, saying Roddick’s work ethic and competitive spirit are a solid foundation. But how much can you change your game at 26? “I think you can change,” Stefanki said, noting we were not talking a major overhaul. “You need someone to put you on track.”
In the aftermath of Arlen Kantarian’s imminent departure from the USTA, I heard from a well-placed source that the chief executive of professional tennis was not offered a contract to stay on. In other words, he didn’t decide to leave. He was forced to do so. Despite being a creative money-making machine during his eight-year stay overseeing the U.S. Open, Kantarian grabbed power wherever he could, rubbed some the wrong way and had a fat salary. But none of these were ultimate sticking points in his exit. While the details remain opaque, I’m told that there were some untoward dealings.
Lastly, a few stories in USA Today from the past few weeks: One on how the economy is affecting tennis; one about the ATP and WTA tours one day merging; and another about the uptick in tennis participation.