When I played volleyball in high school, my favorite pre-match cheer was "You gotta want it to win it, and we want it more." But my coach hated that cheer because as he would tell us "You shouldn't ever have to say that. They should see it in everything you do." That meant chasing down and diving for every shot, having the guts to take a big swing on big points, diving into bleachers, etc.
There's no denying that Andy Roddick choked big time against Tipsarevic in the second round of Wimbledon this year. That second serve slice forehand return on break point? That was a complete and utter brain cramp. But what struck me about Andy's post-match interview was this quote: "It's like you want something so bad you almost squeeze too tight."
Sure, Andy says he wants it badly, that elusive second Slam. But what has he actually done to show us he wants it? The sweat dripping from the bill of his cap isn't enough. His on-court effort clearly isn't enough.
Tom Ferson for Tennisreports.net wrote an interesting article about A-Rod's spiraling game. I don't buy into the seven stages of grief slant (it's cute but forced), but I do like his discussion about Andy's weak backhand and how Andy has done nothing to improve it. After reading the article, what struck me is the realization that A-Rod plays the same game today that he played back when he was dubbed the next best thing. Nothing's really changed, and if anything, I think his forehand has gotten weaker.
But that's not the point. The point is that his approach to his game is so disappointing and hollow when I compare him to players like Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, and Ana Ivanovic. These are players who are unabashedly chasing #1. They want it and they have made it abundantly clear. But in the course of the last two years, they have done everything in their power to get better, to maximize their ability and rightfully earn the coveted title of "Best in the World". Djokovic realized that he needed to become a better volleyer, so he hired Mark Woodforde, to come in and work with him. Rafa clearly realized that in order to win on any surface other than clay, he had to become more aggressive, his serve had to improve, and he had to get stronger on his backhand wing. Ivanovic realized that power wasn't enough. She needed a better backhand and had to shed some of that weight and get fitter so that she could stay in long rallies and move her feet to get in position to hit her power shots. All these players realized they had glaring weaknesses that were holding them back from that top spot, and they worked their asses off to turn those weaknesses into strengths. And this is key. They didn't just try to work on other strengths in an attempt to cover up their weaknesses. They worked to erase those weaknesses all together.
But A-Rod has been stuck in the same position that Jelena Jankovic now finds herself. Is it too late? Is it too late for A-Rod to completely reconstruct his backhand and is he willing to go through the physical, emotional, and mental pains to do it? I don't think he is. He's too stubborn and at this point he's still holding on to the belief that his serve and athleticism will get him through.
Same goes for Jelena Jankovic. Her serve and her fitness is holding her back. She had her best shot at a Grand Slam at the French Open and what let her down? The fact that AI had a chance to crack a winner on every serve she saw and her niggling injuries once again prevented her from playing her best. In fact, JJ is the primo example of someone who tries to cover up her weaknesses instead of actually addressing them head on. Instead of playing fewer tournaments this year to protect her body, she still has played more tournaments than any other player in the top 5. She hasn't made it to a Slam final and has only one title this year, and yet, she's #2 in the world. How can that be? She's accumulated a load of points by playing in more tournaments. Sure, JJ says that winning a Grand Slam is her dream, but I just don't see that she's done anything to get her over the hump. As Martina Navratilova said during the French Open "She's seems like she's just happy to be here."
A-Rod and JJ, no matter what the rankings say, will forever be on the outside looking in on the elite group until they sack up and realize they're simply not good enough for their professed ambitions. But so long as they are willing to coast on their current abilities and just hope that it's enough to win a major, I don't want to hear anymore of this "I want it so badly" crap.
Talk is cheap, and from them, it's simply disingenuous.