As the telecast of America’s Davis Cup tie against Serbia was broadcast in Roddick’s living room, IT publisher Bill Simons spoke to the star about his wife Brooklyn, his rival Federer, his hero Agassi and the transformation of his career
INSIDE TENNIS: We’re sitting here at your nice home. You travel the world. Talk about your lifestyle. Pretty darn good, yes?
ANDY RODDICK: It’s very good. I tell anyone who’ll listen that I probably won’t ever have a real job. I feel 95 percent of people don’t enjoy what they do. It’s a means to get the stuff they do enjoy or to get to the weekend. But I really do enjoy what I do and I definitely don’t take it for granted. I realize the reality of my situation.
IT: You’ve said your worst day is better than a lot of other people’s best…
AR: Yes. I got a lot of kind of condolences after Wimbledon with people asking, “Are you okay?” and I said, “I’m disappointed. Obviously, it was a little heart-breaking. But let’s put this is perspective. I got to play in one of the best Wimbledon finals ever. I got cheered and I’ll have those memories forever.” I look back and have a lot more great memories than bad ones. At times like that, you have to have a little respect. I was never going to feel sorry for myself.
IT: You’re right there playing in a classic. The whole world is watching you on the sport’s most hallowed court. What were your thoughts out there in the moment?
AR: I was as good as I’ve ever been at literally going to the next point. I wasn’t upset about anything – even when I had my chances in the second set breaker.
IT: Four set points.
AR: Even there, I got back and won the third set. I wasn’t thinking about all the extracurricular stuff. I know it’s big, but that’s a little bit lost on me. Two, three weeks later Tom Watson was at the British Open. Everybody was watching that. I said, “This is amazing. How cool is that?” And my buddy looked at me like I was stupid because just weeks before I was in the same situation.
IT: Do you ever think of that backhand volley at set point off of a floater that…?
AR: I’m the first person to say when I’ve choked shots or matches. That one wasn’t. The fact that I missed it badly made people remember. It was a high ball. The wind was gusty. I was dealing with whether to let it bounce. And the way Roger hits passing shots, you either put it away or you lose. So, I don’t think about that shot. That’s not a shot that won or lost the match.
IT: It’s said that you got more out of that loss than all your other wins combined.
AR: From a public perception standpoint, I would agree 100 percent. I was first the young up-and-coming, ah-shucks kid from Nebraska. Then the endorsements and the hype came and I have a bit of a temper. So then I was kind of a punk. Then there was the comeback story, and then there’s a comeback 2.0. After Wimbledon, for the first time I was presented as an Everyday Joe who works his tail off and tries his best every time, which is the way I view myself. I go about my business every day, I go to work and that’s it. So it was an interesting progression to see that change after one match.
IT: Do you think you’ve pretty much been the same meat and potatoes all along or have you…
AR: Everyone changes from 19 to 27. It’s a very interesting part of most people’s lives. I’ve just had an audience. But the core of me hasn’t changed too much. I’m probably a lot more of a homebody now. I wake up a lot earlier and I enjoy tennis a lot more. The way I was presented at any given time was an extreme version of myself.
IT: Were you as much of a punk as you were portrayed?
AR: I don’t think so. There was the failed [AmEx] mojo campaign. That adds to public sentiment. That’s not who I am at home or when I’m hanging out with my friends. We’ve all made good decisions. Obviously, that was a suspect one.
IT: Was the mojo campaign your answer to Agassi’s “Image is Everything” campaign?
AR: Probably. And there was Dan [O’Brien] and Dave [Johnson’s] Reebok campaign. A campaign is never any good if the athlete doesn’t produce. I lost in the first round at the Open, absolutely ruining and making a mockery of that campaign. If I had semifinaled, it would have been a great campaign.
IT: Tennis is such an individual sport — 20,000 people watching just two athletes. The public watches your evolution — from young exciting kid to man-child, all the struggles.
AR: It’s so weird because I was never outside the top 10. I guess mainstream America kind of checked out between ‘03 and the ‘06 U.S. Open final, which was my first comeback. Then, all of a sudden, it’s ‘09 and we’re at a Wimbledon final. In the three years in-between, I was still a top-10 player.
IT: Many contended the field caught up to…
AR: The field caught up to everybody. Tennis is deeper now than ever. I can confidently say that I would beat the ‘03 version.
IT: You’ve said that the 10-15 seconds after a big win is what it’s all about.
AR: That’s what you train for. That’s the great feeling. You close it out, it’s done. It’s a euphoric feeling.
IT: And your most euphoric feeling?
AR: I don’t think of the U.S. Open first. It was quick. [Winning the Davis Cup in] Portland was great because it was an eight-year process. It was a culmination, and it was about the guys, a different feeling. It wasn’t selfish. At the ‘06 U.S. Open, I had a blast because for the life of me, I couldn’t understand how I was getting the door shut on me at 24. Guys who were older were called “up-and-coming.” I was having trouble grasping that…[I had] a chip on my shoulder at that tournament, and I enjoyed that. Last year’s [Wimbledon] win against Lleyton [Hewitt] and then against [Andy] Murray in the semis, those were good.
IT: American men’s tennis, you can argue, has gone through some pretty clear eras. There were the dignified pioneers, Stan Smith and Arthur Ashe, then Jimbo and Mac, then the Fab Four. Since Sampras, Agassi, Courier and Chang stepped aside, you can say it’s been “The Andy Era.”
AR: You could say that. Tennis has just become so much more global. The talent pool is so much deeper. You used to look at the top 100 players and 30 were from Australia, 30 were from America, and then it was kind of spotty. What’s tennis in the U.S. — the 10th biggest, behind even extreme sports? Everywhere else it’s second, so their best athletes are going into it. It’s something I’ve dealt with throughout my career, being the guy. There is a sense of responsibility for holding up tennis, especially considering our tradition. But for every negative there are three positives. You can’t accept the positives and complain about the negatives.
IT: At one point, you spoke of how you were looking for your edge. You said, “Probably under my dresser.” You started to turn it around with Larry Stefanki and your future wife, Brooklyn, in your corner.
AR: We had a talk and I said to Brooke, “I honestly don’t know if my best tennis is behind me.” I was coming off a shoulder injury. I wasn’t playing great. We thought, “What do you want? Who do you want to work with? Who gets you excited? What are we going to change? Are we going to become a better athlete? The game is changing, so you’re not going to rely just on shotmaking anymore. It’s not two shots — you have to be able to move, to run.” So it was a tough time. I had to look at myself objectively. We took a risk. We dropped some weight. We started playing a little bit differently, incorporating slices, and incorporating changing to meet the demands of how the game had changed. And last year it worked, up until when I got hurt. But I was playing well.
IT: You said you see tennis in a different, more conscious way.
AR: You learn more about the game having been around it. What I did at the beginning of my career, having huge holes in my game, but being able to cover them up with strengths. I don’t think that would work now. You don’t see someone with just one shot.
IT: Some have said it was tough on your career that you won so big so early, with a game that wasn’t complete.
AR: It’s never a bad thing to win the Open. It’s never a bad time to make a Slam final. There was a lot to deal with afterward, because I had a personality. If I had been from a smaller market, someone who didn’t have the storylines behind him, who wasn’t a complete wiseass, there would have been a lot less to deal with. But I wouldn’t change a thing because what you go through shapes you as a person. You learn your lessons. I love my career, every second. The valleys are what make the peaks great. That what makes those 10 to 15 seconds after a win so sweet.
IT: You were once a thrower, now you’re a pitcher. You’re using slice more, you’re switching it up more.
AR: You have to make adjustments…There are some matchups where you can switch things up. You have an option. I’m always going to have my A game. My serve is always going to be my thing. I’m never going to turn into someone who spins it. It would be stupid not to use it. But if the A game’s not working, I feel like I can run. I can put the ball in play and I can haul ass for a couple of hours and be able to mix it up mid-match if something’s not working. There wasn’t a plan B before. The ‘05 U.S. Open was a perfect example. If I had a plan B, I would have gotten through that match. If I’d been able to chip it, stand way back, get returns in, make the guy think a bit as opposed to just hit, hit, hit, hit, hit.
IT: Does having those options take a little pressure off, knowing that you’re not always dependent on your fastball?
AR: It’s nice to have options.
IT: Plus, recently you’ve hit a few Fabrice Santoro-like dropshots?
AR: People ask me, “Do you enjoy that a lot more than hitting an ace?” I say, “You’re damn right I do!” I’ve hit 15,000 aces. The other ones, you’ve got to enjoy those a little more. It’s like hitting a hole-in-one as opposed to a couple of birdies.
IT: Larry Stefanki noted that people dismiss your wife Brooklyn, saying she’s just supermodel in a bathing suit. But he said she’s one tough cookie. She came up from Carolina to New York and worked her way to the top, she’s a self-starter.
AR: My favorite thing about Brooke is her drive. She loves working. She loves doing it. She moved from a very humble background in North Carolina to take a swing. “I’m going to move to New York by myself straight out of high school and live by myself.” It takes some stones. She’s very self-motivated. She works for what she gets. She hustles.
IT: And the SI cover was like her Wimbledon?
AR: She earned that cover through her personality and professionalism. She’ll tell you that there’s a lot of pretty girls. It’s huge. It’ll open a lot of doors. They just announced she got a role in a [Adam] Sandler movie. She’s all over the place. The last thing she ever wants to be is to be perceived as my wife. She could sit back, go to tournaments and sit in player lounges. That doesn’t interest her. We both realize we have limited shelf lifes. So we support each other in our goals. She’s a good soul. She doesn’t get too carried away with everything. She has a good head on her shoulders. To go into the fashion industry, which isn’t exactly the most morally sound industry that’s ever been created, at 16-17 and remain unaffected, is a testament to the way her parents raised her.
IT: Another person that’s pretty important in your life is a guy named Federer. If it weren’t for him, you might have a trophy or two more?
AR: It crosses your mind, but it isn’t something I obsess about. I get a lot of that from Joe-shmos: “Federer owns you.” But if you were compared to the best person that’s ever done what you do, you probably wouldn’t match up favorably. I have a lot of respect for Roger and the way he goes about his business. It would be a lot harder for me if I was losing to someone who didn’t respect the sport. What are you going to do? Next time I go out, I’m going to try as hard as I can again.
IT: Connors once said he was going to chase Bjorn Borg around the world until he got some wins. A while back you said you didn’t care if you had to chase Roger until you were 1-31. You’re now 2-19.
AR: Yeah, what are you going to do?
IT: Jimmy and John McEnroe were at each other’s throats.
AR: When I’m on the court, I don’t like anybody I’m playing. I get intense against James and Mardy, and they’re two of my best friends. That doesn’t mean I can’t respect how Roger handles himself. But there’s no laying down.
IT: What is it in his game that…
AR: His defense. That doesn’t get talked about. The way he’s able to convert defense into offense with a subtle little chip. He can do a lot of things with a racket like as if he was born with it. You can stick a return deep and he will flick a forehand to the opposite corner. He makes it look easy. That’s a really rough shot. It doesn’t make sense.
IT: Do we call that artistry?
AR: You can call it whatever you want. The point being, he makes a lot of the tougher shots look routine, regularly.
IT: He’s a great fighter.
AR: Everything is great when you’re winning. It’s easy to be a winner when you never lose. You know for that four-year run, when I was kind of in the middle of it and he was losing three matches a year, I don’t think you then get a true test of someone’s will. He’s just saying, “I’m better than you.” [But]last year at the French, when Rafa went out he knew this was his shot. Yet he was down to [Tommy] Haas, he knew that was his opportunity and dug in. He was down to [Juan Martin] Del Potro, dug in. That was a show of his will. He wasn’t the better player in a lot of those matches, but won the tournament. That was probably one of his more impressive Slams.
IT: What was your take on the tears in Australia after he lost to Nadal?
AR: My first reaction was, “Come on, Roger, you’ve won enough!” He did it because, obviously, he cared a lot, and he sensed Rafa legitimately had the upper hand. The other part of me was going, “Come on, you’ve done it 13 times. Let the guy have one.” I can honestly tell you in that moment, I had zero sympathy for Roger. And that’s not mean. We get along great. It was just nice to see he cared so much.
IT: Some are dismissive of your career, but when you break it down, you can argue that you’re the premier Davis Cup player of our era and, after Roger, the most consistent.
AR: The thing is, you can make top 10 on a hot streak once. You can make it on reputation twice. You can make it on whatever it is three times. It doesn’t happen eight times by accident. You have to have something there. You have to know the ins and outs a bit. You have to work real hard. You can probably make it into the top 10 on talent, but you have to have staying power. You have to respect what you do, work at it, and the longer I do, the more people will realize that aspect of it, which is gratifying. As far as being dismissed, you’re not going to believe me, but I don’t get that concerned. That’s someone’s opinion and I feel the people who know tennis will respect my resume and its length. If I have a basketball reporter commenting on tennis, and dismissing me, I don’t care. But not in an arrogant way. It doesn’t affect my morning. It’s forgotten. In order for it to bother me, I have to feel like the person honestly understands the ins and outs of what it takes to be a player.
IT: You’ve said Agassi, Lance Armstrong and Muhammad Ali were your heroes?
AR: There have been a lot of great athletes, but I put someone like Ali on a different pedestal. In the prime of his career he stood up for something he believed in and missed seven years of his prime. Someone like Lance, took his success and waged a war on cancer. Someone like Arthur [Ashe], who’s been a transcendent person, as far as HIV and Aids. Andre taking his leverage and becoming a leading philanthropist, and Billie Jean and her fight for equality. Those people are heroes. They’ve taken what they’ve done as athletes and used it as a soapbox for something that’s bigger than themselves.
IT: Tennis is an individual sport with lots of wealth. The top players are really brands unto themselves. Yet, our sport, has had some true visionaries.
AR: I don’t know why besides the fact that tennis is such a close-knit family. Every person we’ve mentioned, with the exception of Arthur, I’ve been able to have a personal relationship with throughout my career. I don’t know if that lineage. I don’t know if there is another sport where there is such a close connection between generations. The reason I started my foundation was because of Andre…He’s been completely revolutionary as far as athletic philanthropy goes.
IT: And your take on his using meth?
AR: I’m going to judge someone based upon how they’ve treated me personally and their effect on the world. Andre’s effect on the world has been unquestionably positive. But, I don’t judge someone for having a rough time in their life. A recovered alcoholic is celebrated. It was shocking to me how quickly the tennis world turned their back on Andre when he came out with this. I talked to Andre during this whole thing and he said his perspective was, “I was at the lowest of the low. I was depressed, I didn’t know why. I had this angst. I was using hard-core drugs. I got a second chance. I was able to rebound. If that can effect one person who’s in the space I was in and inspire them to get out of their rut…[after all] I got back to No. 1 in the world.” Andre really thinks his story is a tool for people who’re in a bad place.
IT: Yet Rafa was very critical and Roger said there was “a dark cloud over our sport?”
AR: I was disappointed in their statements. They’re level-headed. But I’m just amazed. Andre is possibly the biggest crossover star we’ve had and he built the business side up. [Yet] the majority of the tennis world just instantly wanted nothing to do with him, like hands off. It was surprising.
IT: What about Serena’s N.Y. implosion?
AR: She just got pissed. Listen, you probably got pissed and threw something against the wall because something happened at work. You probably dropped terrible language during the work day. She did it, it was televised, she snapped. The only thing was during her press conference she didn’t have it figured out.