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Streeter: Andy Roddick has a real chance against Roger Federer

January 28, 2009 |  3:32 pm

Andy Roddick

As some of you know, I'm probably the only sports columnist at a major American newspaper to have played professional tennis -- albeit in the minor leagues.

My highest ranking back in the early '90s was around 440 in the world as a doubles player; AA ball, nothing higher. But having played a bit, I have  a good sense of the game, and here's my take on the lone American male still standing at the Australian Open.

Expect fireworks when Andy Roddick meets Roger Federer in the semifinals. I’ve watched a good amount of Roddick at the Australian Open and it's not a stretch to say he’s playing better than he ever has. Probably even better than when he won the 2003 U.S. Open.

It's all about the coaching. His new tennis guru, Larry Stefanki, demanded Roddick get in much better condition for the ’09 campaign. Roddick has lost,  reportedly, 15 pounds. That's allowing a guy who was already a gifted athlete, but a bit of a tall and big-boned guy for a tennis player, to move around the court with a light-footed dexterity he’s never had.

He’s not moving as well as Rafael Nadal or Federer, and he never will. But with his power on serve, he doesn’t have to.

Roger Federer As he did in the past with Marcel Rios, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Tim Henman and Fernando Gonzalez, Stefanki also has Roddick playing more aggressively. Roddick is looking to take more balls on the rise and trying to step further inside the court during rallies, a hallmark for pupils of the Southern California-based coach, who played at Cal a decade or so before I co-captained the team there.

(Note: This aggressive style has distinct California roots, partly because one of Stefanki's prime mentors was the late Tom Stow, a collegiate national champ in the 1920s, who, for decades taught a distinct serve-and-volley style as head coach at Cal and then at the Berkeley Tennis Club and other Northern California tennis outposts. Among his pupils: Hall of Famer Don Budge. Trust me when I say there's a little slice of Tom Stow in Andy Roddick right now.)

Roddick advanced to the semis when he beat Novak Djokovic 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-2, 2-1. Djokovic dropped out from exhaustion on a day when the temps on court surged above 120 degrees. When both players were fresh, in the first set, they were essentially equals, a big development since the Serb won this tournament last year and some, unbelievably, have considered Roddick washed-up.

Can Roddick beat Federer in the semis? I wouldn’t bet on him if Federer plays in the other-worldly way he did in his quarterfinal (6-3, 6-0, 6-0) clubbing of Juan Martin del Potro. Good god, if Federer plays like that, I’ve got my condominium, my car and my cat on him winning this tournament, which would give him 14 grand slams and tie him with Pete Sampras for all-time slams on the men’s tour.

But repeating that kind of monumental play is a tough task, even for the great Federer. If his level falls back a bit and Roddick plays the clean, aggressive way he has all tournament, we could be in for a big surprise.

-- Kurt Streeter

Photo (top): Andy Roddick plays against Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals of the 2009 Australian Open on Tuesday. Credit: Lahalle / Presse Sports via US PRESSWIRE

Photo (inset): Roger Federer. Credit: Greg Wood / AFP / Getty Images