Saturday, June 30, 2007

Roddick: Talented with a Temper

Player Magazine
Spring 2004

"I think it's weird when I'm reading a magazine or watching Sports Center, and there I am," Roddick says. "It's all sort of surreal.
No, Andy, it's very real.

Last year Roddick catapulted from rising star to full-fledged phenomenon by winning the U.S. Open. Better yet, he finished 2003 ranked numero uno worldwide. That combination earned Roddick Player of the Year honors from just about every tennis publication and organization in the world. It also grossed him more than $6 million in winnings and who knows how much more through endorsements. So how did Roddick celebrate?

"I bought a big Escalade so I could hang out with my friends when we go out," Roddick says. "I have a nice Lexus SL that I won, but it only has two seats so it's a little impractical."

During his quest last year to capture the U.S. Open, TV camera crews seemed almost as interested in his then-girlfriend, Mandy Moore, as they did with the fireworks on the court. Although the couple is no longer an item - a story that generated headlines in its own right - Roddick is still under the impression that the paparazzi aren't on to him.

"That's not really a problem," Roddick says. "It gets a little tough at tournaments, but it isn't much of an issue outside of tennis yet."

Sure, Andy, keep telling yourself that. Here's the truth ... women want you and men want to be like you. No matter where he goes, the press shadows him like a hawk: Roddick at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut, Roddick with Bill Walton at the ESPN Zone in Las Vegas, Roddick at a major movie premiere. Events like these and a whole lot more regularly receive full-court coverage if Mr. 152 mph shows up.

But behind the good looks and the killer serve, there's the story of a driven competitor who is not only establishing his own considerable legacy but also happens to be carrying the future of American tennis on his shoulders. Now that Pete Sampras has retired, fans are looking for a new hero to latch onto.

Andy Roddick is that guy.

ESPN has called Roddick the man who will not only rescue tennis in the States, but will end up owning it as well. This observation takes into account his winning ways and factors in a key element of the Roddick persona: bad boy flair.

During the 2002 U.S. Open when Roddick asked an umpire, "Are you a complete moron?!" rowdy tennis fans knew they had their guy - a John McEnroe with a blistering serve.

In a first-round match at the Franklin Templeton Classic in Phoenix last March, Roddick broke his racquet and received a reprimand. This episode came after the umpire overruled a line call on break point. The umpire not only refused to replay the point but ended up slapping a delay point against Roddick for taking too long to resume play.

Let's face it. Americans love a rebel.

Consider the glowing memories that Johnny Mac and his old nemesis Jimmy Connors bring to mind. When people think of those two American icons, they immediately think of the high-energy, fist-pumping, in-your-face attitudes both brought to the game. It's the same sort of mojo that fans get to see when Roddick kicks it into overdrive.

The explosive side to his personality is nothing new. Roddick has a reputation for snapping at officials and peppering his play with colorful, not-ready-for-prime-time comments. Some competitors have gone so far as to complain about what they call Roddick's "arrogant attitude," his on-court rage, and his public outbursts with tennis officials. For his part, Roddick just shrugs off the criticism and plays his game.

"What I don't like is when an official anticipates a call," he says. "I've learned over the last few years that the way I react to a call can have a huge impact on the way I play. I make sure now I have a shorter memory out there."

Away from the court, Roddick's superstar lifestyle is a given. Over the last few years, he has developed tight relationships with A-list celebrities, including members of the Dave Matthews Band. A longtime fan of the group, Roddick catches the band's shows whenever he gets the chance. Of course if you're Andy Roddick, you don't stand in line to buy your tickets or bring your binoculars so you can actually see what's happening on stage from the nose bleed section.
"I met the guys a few years ago when I was at a tournament in Cincinnati," Roddick says. "Our schedules have matched up a lot lately so I've hung out with them and go to the gigs whenever it's possible."

That closeness even extends to their TV appearances. Roddick and the band teamed for a stint on Saturday Night Live.

With his stellar 2003 season now one for the history books, Roddick has his sights set on an international tournament that isn't even part of the pro circuit - the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens. "If I could win only one tournament this year," Roddick says, "it would be the Olympics."

Since 1988, when the International Olympic Committee began allowing professional tennis players to compete, Americans such as Andre Agassi, Lindsay Davenport, and Venus Williams have won gold. Roddick wants to join that elite club.

"With regular tournaments, if you don't do well you know you'll be back in a year," he says. "With the Olympics it's only every four years so you really have to bring your A game."

If he does, Roddick's summer may have a golden glow.

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