April 4, 2010

Rule #76: No Excuses, Play Like a Champion!

Tennis is as much a mental game as it is a physical one.

How many times have you watched an uninitiated player come out of the cages swinging only to ultimately crash out, unable to maintain his or her early power? And it's not just the newcomers -- plenty of battle-tested pros have the ability to let their nerves get to them when trying to take a big match. Take for example Shuai Peng who bageled eventual semifinalist Jie Zheng in the first set of her Australian Open, only to lose the next two handily. Or Andy Murray, who still hasn't won a set in the two Grand Slam finals he's played.

But champions -- real champions -- know how to control the voices inside their head and how to keep the down days from getting to them on the good ones.

That's exactly what Andy Roddick was able to do in Miami this week, even though it couldn't have been easy. He suffered a painful defeat just two weeks ago in the Indian Wells final -- more than two hours on court, winning eighty-two percent of his first serves and saving all three break points against him, and he still ceded the trophy to Ivan Ljubicic, a player he'd beaten seven times before. A lesser man might have brought that tough loss with him to Miami and left after the first or second round.

Not Roddick.

Truth be told, he had a fairly easy draw with his biggest early challenge coming in the fourth round, where Ben Becker took him to a first set tiebreak before laying down in the second. Andy had the benefit of watching the seeds fall all around him, first Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, then Roger Federer. He took care of the last big threat himself, dropping the opening set to Rafael Nadal before winning eight straight points to take the second and eventually the match. A lesser man might have rested on his laurels and not prepared for a fight in the finals.

Not Roddick.

Instead he took his opponent, Tomas Berdych, quite seriously. As well he should have -- the Czech not only stunned Roger Federer in the fourth round, but followed up that win with solid defeats of Fernando Verdasco and Robin Soderling. But Andy didn't assume his foe would fold after such a grueling schedule. It took a while, but he eventually broke Berdych's serve late in the first set and then took an early lead in the second. He squandered a couple of championship points late in the set, but finally secured his second title of the year as his challenger's backhand return floated into the net.

Roddick didn't seem to react much to the win -- he didn't jump in the air or fall to the ground in tears. Instead, he threw his head back, then unassumingly walked to the net to congratulate the runner-up and accept his title. But there is no mistaking that this was a big win for the veteran -- his fifth Masters title and his first since 2006. It certainly puts him in a good place for the rest of the season.

And like all champions, you can be sure Roddick will take this win in stride and hopefully use it as a stepping-stone to even bigger wins in the future.

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