BLUR-BABY-BLUR: The Considerable Life and Times of America's Andy – Andy Roddick

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Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Bill Simons

MELBOURNE –

When Andy Roddick – a raw prairie kid with tons of swagger – powered his way to the 2003 US Open title, it was a big deal. “Whiz kid wins America’s Grand Slam” – now there’s a dandy story. Yet again, at the time, it didn’t exactly shake the world. The 21-year-old was coming up in the considerable footsteps of America’s greatest generation – Sampras, Agassi, Courier, Chang and Todd Martin. “Ah yes,” thought everyone, “the beat goes on.

But it didn’t. (Memo to myself: Never take anything, let alone excellence, for granted.)

Soon a quartet of champions – Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and eventually Murray grabbed the game by its throat: Euro-dominance.

Roddick would have an extraordinary career. He was a Davis Cup hero – America’s best. He would reach finals and break hearts. Like Federer at the time, he would win at least one tournament for a dozen years. For nine years he camped out in the top 10. But he never again broke through. The unfortunate fellow toiled in the shadow of giants.

Neither Roddick nor for that matter any other American guy has lifted a Grand Slam trophy for over 13 years – such a drought!

In his early days, Roddick’s ‘blur-baby-blur’ serve and his explosive forehand shook the game. He was the widely-admired leader of a new American generation. He became a considerable mentor. He set four Herculean goals: become No. 1, and also win the Davis Cup, the US Open and Wimbledon. He achieved all but the latter. What an accomplishment. Just imagine how America would delight if the Isners, Socks, Johnsons or Querreys of the world could do just some of what Andy did.

But truth be told, there were issues in Roddick’s game. His backhand was a career-long liability. His volleys at times were suspect. Is it too harsh to say he was clunky on clay? For him the French Open was, like many Americans, a journey into the abyss. And eventually the field adjusted to him and answered his power with power. Even Andy viewed himself as a kind of blaster. And Federer drummed him.

Still we adored him – such a charismatic battler. Magnetic and compelling, win or lose – his matches were must-see battles. Fans were captivated by his ferocity. His macho ethos drew us in. We’ll never refer to him as Sir Andy.

Yesterday, the Bryans spoke to IT about Andy’s Davis Cup play, “The guy was just so clutch…He put the team on his shoulders, and fought so hard. He competed like an animal…He just served lightning.” Plus, Andy’s press conferences were let-it-all-hang-out happenings – grab your helmets, fasten your seat belts. His quips were as penetrating as his serve. His insights were knives. You didn’t have to work too hard to tell an Andy Roddick tale.

The guy was so candid and unvarnished. But not tonight on Rod Laver Arena. At a stunning ceremony honoring him and the other new members of the Hall of Fame, he suffered an unforced error. As the likes of Laver, McEnroe, Evert, Navratilova, and Becker looked on, Roddick told the throng, “I was not a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.”

But Andy was only being gracious. After all, when it comes to Andy’s shoes, their wer only two things to say. They were big and they proved impossible to fill.

This afternoon he fielded questions from the press. Here are some edited excerpts:

Q. You set four goals, to win the US Open, to win Wimbledon, to be world No. 1, to win Davis Cup. Is the one that got away [Wimbledon]…
Andy Roddick: I don’t have to choose. Three out of four sounds pretty good. I wish I would have gotten the one [the 2009 Wimbledon against Federer, where he muffed a critical forehand to an open court] that got away.

Contrary to what anyone would believe, those [four goals] can live in harmony. Those…were lofty goals. One of those can make a lifetime. I consider myself lucky.

Q. What would you say is your contribution to the sport of tennis?
AR: I got up every morning with an intent, with a goal. Some of them worked; some of them were massive failures. But the way I went about the process of it kind of mitigates regret.

Q. The other day Federer said all players agree on the fact that there shouldn’t be a neutral final for the Davis Cup, there should be a home tie. When we asked if there was anything where all players agreed to change in Davis Cup, nothing came out. Is there one thing in particular that if you could change for the Davis Cup you would like to do?
AR: The dangerous part about ideas is that sometimes we ignore how that affects everything else, right? So me blurting out an idea isn’t as easy as just that idea working. Trust me, I’ve lived in America the last year and a half, so I’m almost an expert on that.
In a perfect world [I’d like] to give the two finalist teams a bye the next year, where they actually had some space between September and February.

Q. When you’re sitting in that chair after you lost to Roger [at Wimbledon in 2009]. How much do you take pride in that part of your career?
AR: My wife didn’t call me back for five months after I called her…Her manager brought it up. Have you ever thought about calling that guy back?

Not really, [he] seems kind of like a douche.

She actually watched the same [Wimbledon] video and liked it. So that did have life-altering ramifications that were very good.

Q. What was more challenging in your career, to go to the slow French clay courts every year…
AR: Yes (laughter).

Q. …or after tournaments coming in to press conferences, especially after losses?
AR: [The] French was tough. I don’t think it was coincidental that whenever I played somebody French, I played on the slowest, wettest court there at 7:30 at night. Part of me respected it.

Listen…all [of you] who covered me, I appreciated [your] honesty. I appreciated opinions, as long as it didn’t cross a line of personally going after someone who was in the orbit of my life…I appreciated an honest conversation.

Q. Roger has been a big part of your career…Can you describe the rivalry? He has had the better of you…
AR: Only by 18 matches, though (smiling). I beat him the last time. He’s lucky I retired. The easiest word is ‘respect’…I appreciate his respect that he’s shown me throughout the years. It’s weird because you share history with someone. It becomes a part of your definition…I’m happy that a part of my definition is as respectful, as classy and as good of a human as Roger. It would be tougher for me to hear if the person that kind of ruined me on court for a decade didn’t have the moral fiber of…Roger.

Q. Your thoughts on the tournament and do you ever watch tennis now and wonder, Could I still be playing?
AR: Anyone who tells you they don’t wonder is lying. But the moments of wondering are very fleeting. I know a lot of athletes who always pretend like when they played, it doesn’t get better than that.

It’s better than that. The way the guys hit the ball, the way they move… Tennis is just crazy now…The evolution of the game has just been amazing. That says nothing disrespectful about the generations before.

What I see now I want no piece of. What Roger’s doing at 35, what Venus and Serena are doing…It’s pretty amazing…Who wouldn’t want to see the Williams sisters, who wouldn’t want to see a matchup between Roger and Rafa with history on the line.

Think about the historical significance of what that match would look like…One player [Rafa] at 14 slams, one player at 17 slams, Rafa wins, it’s 15-17, and the French Open is around the corner, it’s back on. It’s literally game on for the most slams ever. If Roger wins, it’s 18-14. I don’t know that that divide gets made up.

If that happens, it has to be the most important match in Australian Open history and possibly Grand Slam history.

Q. And the toughest stroke you’ve ever faced?
AR: It’s tough. I hate that because you have to get some context. You can’t teach seven-feet-tall serving. Karlovic, Isner. I think it’s the sum of all parts…The combination of having all the tools, being able to utilize them at will, and picking and choosing your spots, and figuring out what in your repertoire is going to affect the person the most.

We’ve seen…four or five guys, over the past 15 years do that every single day, and do it to each other every single day. It’s this chess match of match-ups. For me it’s fascinating.

Q. Watching the next generation, when you see a guy like Nick Kyrgios coming in…
AR: Oh, we almost made it through [the press conference]…Until he decides he’s ready to hear it, then it really doesn’t matter. Does he go about it the way that I would …No. But that’s his process. If he was perfect you guys wouldn’t be nearly as entertained. You wouldn’t have as much to write about. Frankly, we probably wouldn’t watch as much. He’s good for the game. If he does ever figure it out, that’s going to be a fun story, too.

Q. How does it feel to devote your entire life to this sport, then retire?
AR: You make it sound so drab (smiling). It’s bittersweet. the good news is there’s no law against me going out and hitting tennis balls with some buddies any time I want to. It’s not like you take yourself away from the game completely. The innocent parts of tennis I’ll always have access to. The parts that you fell in love with…are always there. I don’t know if I need lights or an audience to enjoy it.