INSIDE TENNIS: You’ve talked about the 10 to 15 seconds after a match as the key, when it all feels so worth it, all the work, all the practice. But Andre Agassi said that the key for him was the 10 minutes before he went to bed, that he’s been cheered and booed in stadiums around the world, but there’s nothing worse than booing yourself in those minutes before sleep.
ANDY RODDICK: I sleep well at night because I know pretty much everything I do on a daily basis is what I should be doing. Andre’s thing was more along the lines of not doing the things he should have been doing, and that was the reason for his loss of sleep. I rarely feel I lose a match because I didn’t work hard enough, so that part makes it easier.
IT: You’re such a huge sports fan. What kind of lesson do you take from watching sports?
AR: I’m thankful that I play a sport because it gives me a chance. I respect the heck out of every sport. I think about what athletes have to have to do to train, because a lot of people just see the end result, and they think the players just go out and play a match, but there are a million mornings in cold weather that you’re out there on the track. My curiosity makes me wonder what these guys do on a daily basis. That fascinates me.
IT: And if you could just press a button and play another sport.
AR: Quarterback would be fun. You have to be extremely intelligent to be a quarterback, very smart. That’s one of the toughest positions.
IT: In tennis, do you have to be a little bit like an NFL cornerback who may get beat on one big play, but has to come back right away and be ready for the next. They have to master the art of amnesia.
AR: You get back up. It’s either that or retire, and I’m not going to do that. What the hell else am I going to do?
IT: There’s always disco bowling.
AR: That doesn’t pay as well. Are you going to sit around and feel sorry for yourself? No. You get back up and work. You could have a bad day at Inside Tennis. You could lose an advertiser. The next day, you try and find another advertiser. That’s just what you do. I don’t think of it as a skill. It’s not something you acquire. It’s just being given the two options, and it’s a pretty clear answer.
IT: But you’ve had so many tough losses: at the French Open, to Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon in ’07, to Gilles Muller at the Open in ’05. And, of course, to Roger Federer. Which have been the toughest to swallow?
AR: Roger in ’09 [in the Wimbledon final] was one of the toughest. But I have so many great memories from last year. Then tennis was being discussed around the water cooler for two, three weeks afterwards. That was awesome. So there are so many more positives from that. Gasquet was tough. But at the French Open, if we’re being realistic, I know there’s a roof as far as what I can do. I’d love to go further, but it doesn’t affect the way I train. The hardest time in my career was after Wimbledon in ’06. I hadn’t played well the entire first part of the year. But in the back of my mind, there was always Wimbledon. I’d semied, finaled, finaled. It’s a place where I consistently play well. Not a lot of people play well on grass. But I lost to Andy Murray, who at the time was 18 or 19. That was the hardest time, getting back up.
IT: You saw how Serena Williams lost it at the U.S. Open last year. Talk about your own temper. You’re not an Ilie Nastase, you’re not a John McEnroe, you’re not a Jimmy Connors, but…
AR: I get pissed. A lot of times I get mad when I don’t feel prepared going into a tournament. As a result, I don’t play as well as I should. That’s when I have my worst tantrums and meltdowns.
IT: There was a Wimbledon…
AR: I don’t remember [Laughs]. When I feel prepared, healthy, ready to go, I rarely lose it. I’m able to keep it together a little more. Those little feelings of not being ready enough manifest in that way.
IT: You’re pretty intense on the court, but you can also be a pretty funny guy, a wise guy. Talk about your sense of humor. Where did it come from?
AR: I don’t even think it’s humor. It’s just honesty that manifests itself in the way of being funny. I don’t know if I try to protect myself from my own answers. I feel like a lot of athletes do that.
IT: You once had a whole comic shtick on how all you once did was munch Cheetos and blast your forehand. But then you changed and really worked hard on your game. But you still missed your Cheetos.
AR: I worked really hard during the ’05 off-season and in ’06 really didn’t haven’t much to show for it because I was playing like a bum. I was fighting that battle between “Gosh, I was a lot more undisciplined than I am now when I was No. 1 in the world. Now I’m doing all the right things and it’s not going the way I want it to. I said something along the lines of how I used to sit back after a match and eat four bags of Cheetos and then go out and rip someone the next day. That was my doubt, at that moment. That was frustrating.
IT: So you still miss your Cheetos?
AR: Well, Cheetos are good. [Laughs.] If I’m busting my butt all this time and not getting the rewards…
IT: Speaking of rewards, you said you originally had four goals, and you’ve achieved three of them — winning the U.S. Open, rising to No.1 and winning the Davis Cup. Not a bad track record. Now it’s down to Wimbledon.
AR: If you were told me when I turned pro at 17 that I would have the career I’ve had, I wouldn’t have thought twice, I would’ve taken it. But, obviously, when you accomplish things you probably readjust. I want that Wimbledon title very badly, and I feel I’m ready for it. There’s probably a sense of entitlement as far as that tournament goes because I’ve played well there so many times. So yes, that would mean a lot.
IT: Talk about Wimbledon, the setting, the pomp, the…
AR: I love it. I buy in wholeheartedly. All the little traditions, all the little practicing in Aorangi Park, not being allowed on the grounds, I love it. There’s no middle ground and that’s what makes it awesome, too, because you either love it or hate it. I love staying in the little Wimbledon Village. I love how Wimbledon is tucked into a neighborhood. I’m cruising by and I see you walking toward the courts. You see familiar faces around the village. Everything about it.
IT: And Centre Court?
AR: It’s the Cathedral. It’s the Fenway Park of tennis. That’s the one that’s got the aura and the magic. The AO is the friendly Slam — everyone’s in a good mood, it’s the start of the year the people are really friendly. Everything is convenient. The USO is the show. It’s big on the fireworks and the night sessions. And Wimbledon — it’s the tradition, it’s the Mecca it doesn’t need to have all the show because it’s an entity unto itself.
IT: Tiebreakers have been pretty important to your career. What’s the key in playing them?
AR: I don’t play them much differently. There’s a lot more pressure on my opponents. If I hit an average return in the middle of the court, that first ball is a lot harder to hit at 4-all in a tiebreaker. If you miss it, I have two serves coming, as opposed to you being up 30-15 in the service game. I don’t know if I step up and play that much better. I’ve had a lot of success with them in my career. It suits my game well.
IT: A lot of people say that your greatest strength is your fight. Even you said, “I’m the best bad player ever.”
AR: I always hear how great all these guys hit the ball. I hear about Gasquet’s backhand. People just drool over it forever and you hear so-and-so’s this and so-and-so’s that. And then I hear how I can’t really do anything but yet I beat all these guys consistently. And that kind of lends itself to me being a really good bad player.
IT: Sandy Mayer really cracked you.
AR: Sandy Mayer would have had to have been better at tennis to crack me. That’s the way I approach that one. I can take that sort of criticism from probably very few people.
IT: You talked about Gasquet’s backhand. There are a lot of great forehands — James Blake, Juan Martin Del Portro, Fernando Gonzalez come to mind. Give me your top one or two.
AR: Roger has the best forehand.
IT: It’s the most punishing?
AR: His ball is in the middle of the court. Being able to go the other way, with pace, without pace, inside-out angles, he controls most matches with his forehand from the middle of the court.
IT: And if you had to choose one backhand.
AR: Rafa‘s got a great backhand. And no one talks about it because everyone one likes talking about the pretty one-handers. The shot that looks great is a shotmaking shot because you see it on a highlight reel and it looks great. Rafa’s is solid. Every single one is heavy. His ability to mix up the height on it, the way he passes off of it. He has a great backhand. Murray’s is great, too.
IT: Because all the variety he…
AR: It’s the same with Roger. He hits a slice, his backhand return is great, he can rally, rally, rally with almost the same swing, but really it’s two times faster.
IT: And the serve? John Isner, Ivo Karlovic?
AR: You can’t teach 6-foot-10. You can’t. Everyone used to freak out because [Richard] Krajicek was 6-foot-5. That’s normal now. That’s nothing. Now you have Del Porto, who, no offense to Krajicek and Todd [Martin], but they weren’t the fastest dudes on the court. Now you have guys like [Marin] Cilic and Del Portro who can run.
IT: The volley?
AR: Roger volleys well. Roger puts himself in position to volley well with a lot of his approach shots. I think Stepanek volleys great. I’m going to take Roger out of a lot of these conversations because he does everything pretty well.
IT: And toughness?
AR: I always think of Lleyton [Hewitt] first. Rafa, obviously, never gives you anything. You know who I’m a huge fan of David Ferrer. I just love how he’s maxed his game as much as anybody. You look at him you don’t say, “That shot was God-given.” You don’t look at him and say, “He does this amazing.” The guy competes his ass off every single time and doesn’t give an inch. And he’s made himself into a hell of a tennis player.
IT: How about speed?
AR: That’s the biggest difference in tennis. You go back and watch old videos, everybody moves now, everybody runs now. You used to have guys in the top 10 who didn’t move that well. Everybody moves well nowadays. That’s where the game has changed. I feel like conditions have slowed down, and people have gotten faster as a result of it. You have new technology that allows people to top out. Sam [Querrey] is 6-foot-7 and look at the way he moves up to a drop shot. It’s insane. The athletes have just become so much better.
IT: You chose to live in Austin — a relatively small city that’s not exactly a tennis Mecca, but a town that loves its sports.
AR: That’s kind of by design. They’re very interested in UT [University of Texas] football. They’re very interested in Lance Armstrong, and that’s pretty much where it ends, and that’s probably one of my favorite things about Austin. I don’t want to be in a place where I’m getting asked about tennis when I’m going for coffee. I love Austin because it’s an extremely unaffected place. There are a lot of well-known people who live here who can go about their day-to-day business.
IT: Andre used to talk about driving up to Roland Garros, how it looked like a monster. But the UT stadium — I’ve never seen a more imposing athletic facility.
AR: And they keep adding to it — 20,000 seats every year. But it’s a little bit hard for me because I’m a Husker [University of Nebraska] fan, so I’m living in the belly of the beast. I got a call late in 2007 from the Nebraska athletic department asking if I wanted to sit with [former Nebraska coach] Tom Osborne during the UT-Nebraska game. So I was like, “Okay, it’s in a suite. No problem.” That was Brook‘s first Nebraska game and she really didn’t understand the significance of it all. So Nebraska is actually winning that game in the fourth quarter and all of a sudden the entire crowd is booing. And I didn’t really think much of it, and it went on for six to seven seconds and I’m like, “Gosh what’s the hell’s going on here?” So I look up on the big screen and sure enough it’s because I’m sitting next to Osborne.”
IT: What was it like to look up and see Tiger Woods in Federer’s box during the U.S. Open final. An American sporting icon supporting the Swiss instead of you?
AR: I guess I was just wondering where the business parallels were going to draw the line. I thought it was very convenient, the Nike, IMG connection. I was trying to tell myself more that it was a business decision as opposed to a patriotic decision.
IT: And when Pete Sampras came in early at Wimbledon when you played Federer?
AR: Well, that’s completely different. When the potential is there for a major record to be broken, it’s a classy thing to do for the person whose record is being broken to be present to pass the torch. Roger could have been playing anybody there.
IT: The tennis field is so tough now. There are all these 21-year-olds kicking butt. Federer. And Rafa when he’s healthy. Do you feel a clock ticking?
AR: There’s always a clock ticking. I’m not delusional that I’m not on the last third of my career. But I work hard. It doesn’t really change anything as far as day-to-day preparations.
IT: It doesn’t put any pressure on you?
AR: No. I’ve been dealing with one form of pressure or another, kind of carrying the weight of my country as far as an entire sport goes. It’s always there. But that’s what you want as an athlete. If you’re dealing with pressure that means you’re good enough for people to expect something out of you.
IT: What was the sweetest moment of your career? You’ve had so many. It doesn’t have to be on the tennis court.
AR: I don’t know. I really, really, really enjoyed the post-Wimbledon sentiment last year. If we’re talking about off court. I felt like I got an accurate portrayal of myself publicly for one of the first times, which selfishly, I enjoyed.
IT: So break that down.
AR: I lost a match, but there was a sense of appreciation. And it’s not there all the time. I don’t deserve to have it all the time. It was nice in that small dose. I also loved that tennis was the lead story for a week afterward in this country.
IT: Does it piss you off that it’s so often kicked to the fourth page or just agate?
AR: Yeah. I loved to have it up front. During Wimbledon, there’s always a “Murray watch.” “He ate a snickers bar at 4:36 in the afternoon and proceeded to have three gulps of Gatorade to wash it down.” That’s probably a little much. But, obviously, I’d love it to be at that height all the time.
IT: A sage in white robes comes down from the mountaintop and says “Okay, Mr. Roddick, what’s your dream? What would you really like in your career?
AR: If I had Wimbledon, I’d have everything I want.
IT: So when it’s all said and done, it sounds like your saying this has been a pretty great run, no regrets, but you would still like to get a Wimbledon.
AR: No big regrets. There are regrets. I don’t know if I’d change anything because everything I’ve done, either positively or negatively, has led me to this place where I’m very happy.
WHAT MAKES ANDY WIN?:
• Sill an ace. He’s No. 2 in aces behind Karlovic.
• First service efficiency and best in the game ability to hold serve (he’s held 91 percent of the time this year and held 96 percent of the time in Miami)
• Ability to play with freedom and take risks outside his comfort zone
• His willingness to tweak his game
• His newfound ability to slice, come to net and flatten his forehand
• His increased fitness and ability to move
• Better tactics and court sense
• His love of the game
• The positive influence of his wife
A FORMULA FOR SUCCESS: Justin Gimbelstob said the last two sets of Roddick’s semi against Nadal in Miami “served as a template for what Andy needs to do and can do in order to challenge anyone in this game.”
BILLIE JEAN TO GET INTO SKATEBOARDING?: After seeing a skateboarding bulldog at the Sony Ericsson Open player party, Roddick tweeted that he needed “to go out and buy a doggy skateboard,” and admitted he was going to become an “overbearing skateboard father really soon. How cool would it be if my dog [Billie Jean] could skateboard around?”
FROM CHEETOHS TO WHOLE FOODS: Uber-coach Larry Stefanki has become a food critic, noting that his pupil Roddick “was a TGI Friday’s and Chili’s boy, and with that type of diet — nachos, meat and potatoes — you work five hours a day and you’re re-polluting your body. Now Andy is a Whole Foods, organic kind of guy.”
THE ‘LINGERING’ QUESTION: Linda Robertson noted, “Roddick still has the scariest serve in tennis…[and] his shirt-yanking tic. He still zings like a stand-up comedian. And, even at age 27, Roddick still wears a baseball cap backward…But Roddick is a changed man, too…Maybe the new Andy Roddick can do something the old Andy Roddick hasn’t done in seven years: win a Grand Slam.”