ANDY RODDICK – The Man Who Pitched to Babe Ruth

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

First the bad news – there almost certainly won’t be another American male tennis player inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame for decades. Now the good news. Andy Roddick – America’s foremost male player of the 21st century since Sampras and Agassi and our greatest wit – was inducted in July.

Observers hoped he would give a great acceptance speech. After all, it’s a strong tradition: when America’s elite go into the Hall they leave us with memories. Pete Sampras famously said, “I’m just a tennis player, nothing more, nothing less.” Andre Agassi revealed that he met Nelson Mandela. Andre recalled that the great leader complimented his tennis “and in the same breath told me the reason why we’re here on earth…’We must be careful in our decisions, careful in our words, and we must be careful in our relationships.’” Andre then offered his advice to children: “Stand on our shoulders, reach higher than we could, reach for your dreams, because today, standing here receiving this honor, I’m living proof that no journey is impossible.”

Roddick had a similar sense of disbelief. He recalled, “[As a kid] I found a T-2000 [racket] at my neighbor’s garage sale for four bucks…I realized that was my first no-brainer investment opportunity.” Roddick then hit thousands of balls inside his garage and imagined beating Becker, Edberg and Lendl every time. He was a tennis fanatic. If a Christmas gift wasn’t tennis-related, forget it. He recalled that when he was eight he gave his mother a Chris Evert Christmas card. Now, 28 years later, in Newport, Chrissie herself was chatting away with his mom and brother. Andy noted, “that was a surreal time, that was awesome.”

Roddick also revealed the time in 1991 when, as an eight-year-old, he snuck into the US Open players lounge and actually played video games with Pete Sampras. “I didn’t say a word,” he recalled. “I was so scared.”

Of course, you can’t speak of Sampras without mentioning Agassi. So he praised Andre’s “ability to put complex issues into short sentences. I was once complaining about the heat in Australia. He was like, ‘You’ve only got to feel cooler than one guy.’”

As far as today’s dominant players, Andy thanked the Big Four “for playing the game at a higher level than it’s ever been played. It sucked being in your vacuum…[But] I still consider myself lucky. I got to guard Jordan. I went the distance with Ali, I pitched to Babe Ruth. I know what it’s been like to watch Picasso. I saw it all…The Big Four guys really pissed me off…but I’m absolutely proud to have my life associated with such quality individuals.”

Roddick recalled, “I’ve had a lot of coaches. It’s what happens when you’re not so talented.” In particular he recalled how his coach Larry Stefanki “worked with a lot of different personalities – McEnroe, Rios, Henman, Gonzales. People that came in, people that stayed back. People who were cerebral, people that were nuts.”

One player who was far from nuts was Kim Clijsters, who, along with the incomparable Vic Braden, writer Steve Flink and Monique Kalkman, were also inducted into the Hall of Fame. Andy – who danced with Kim as a teen in Japan – spoke of her goodness. Clijsters embodies a very different approach to tennis. Often we see fierce, win-at-any-cost warriors. But Clijsters, it was said, “represented a new type of competitor, one with a human face.” The people-friendly Belgian once quipped, “I like to make friends on tour. Trophies don’t talk to you when you retire.”

Reflecting on Kim, Roddick gave us an insightful summary, which not surprisingly, was spiced up with a jigger of sarcasm. “I have a very simple way of putting it. If you have a problem with Kim, I blame you.” He then teased Clijsters, “You never made a mistake. Maybe you did. Maybe I’ll ask [your husband] Brian about it.”

Roddick then admitted, “I’m not the best of all-time. I’m not going to win Wimbledon. I’m not the best of my generation. I’m not the most well-behaved. I’m not the most polished. I’m also never going to take this honor for granted. I’m never going to forget those who paved the way…I’m never going to forget the innocent parts of this game we all love…I may not be a lot of things, but from this day forward, I’ll never be anything less than a Hall of Famer.”


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