Austin Tennis Greats: Andy Roddick

Andy Roddick:You appreciate the sacrifices a parent makes way more after  becoming one

Andy Roddick: Austin’s GOAT?

By John W. Weber

 

Is Andy Roddick the greatest of our Austin Tennis Greats? GOAT (Greatest of All Time) arguments are always tough because “greatness” is hard to define and even harder to compare across different eras. For surely Cliff Drysdale and the late Dennis Ralston deserve consideration as our city’s foremost male player, given their historic amateur and professional tennis legacies, and their continued support for the sport through their respective business, broadcasting, and coaching ventures. But a strong case can be made for Andrew Stephen Roddick as our greatest “Great” for three reasons.

First, there’s his on-court performance which in 2003 won him a year-end #1 ATP singles ranking (which no other Austinite can claim), achieved in part via his US Open championship that year. (Drysdale’s and Ralston’s highest year-end rankings were #4 and #5 respectively and, although they each reached a Grand Slam singles final, their combined four Majors titles were all in doubles.) All told, Andy tallied 32 singles titles—five were Masters 1000 tournaments—and he made it to five Grand Slam singles finals. He was also the workhorse on multiple US Davis Cup teams. His 33 Davis Cup singles rubber wins is second only to John McEnroe’s 41. In 2017, he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Andy Roddick’s game was even bigger than his resume. His super-sonic serve was routinely in the 130-150 MPH range. Incredibly, he once fired one off at 155 MPH, which was the fastest ever recorded at the time. He hit more than 9,000 aces over the course of his career. And, if his serve came back, it was met by strong baseline strokes that favored his powerful forehand. In his later years, he mixed some serve-and-volley into his game and improved his backhand. At 6’2”, he was a sturdy 190 pounds and a muscular presence on the court.

Even given Andy’s athleticism and formidable offensive weapons, this tennis Superman had his kryptonite—and his name was Roger Federer. His record versus the Swiss legend was a dismal 3-21 lifetime. Four times Federer denied Roddick a second Grand Slam title, three at Wimbledon and once at the US Open. Although, typical of Andy, no matter how many times journalists bring up that lop-sided rivalry he responds with honesty, good humor and self-deprecation and, today, remains friends with his one-time nemesis.

The second reason I propose Andy Roddick for consideration as Austin’s GOAT is the way he managed the heavy responsibility that was thrust upon him: sustaining America’s place atop men’s professional tennis. Recall that from the early 1970s into the 2000s, our nation’s competitiveness—if not dominance—in men’s tennis was won by a series of icons named Connors, Ashe, McEnroe, Sampras, Courier and Agassi (with Chang and Blake on the next tier.) As a profile in one magazine put it: “For more than a decade, ever since he won the 2000 Australian Open and US Open junior titles, he played with pressure and expectation. As the poster boy of American tennis, the implications of Andre Agassi’s retirement were not lost on Roddick, who, as a keen tennis historian, was already the most-talked-about singles player from the United States, a nation fueled on the exploits of great tennis champions.” US Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe confirmed, “He loves the pressure that’s being put upon him as being a great American hope.” Thus, Andy took the baton from Agassi and, for his efforts, was rewarded with nine straight years (2002-2010) of finishing in ATP’s top 10. Pretty good given that Federer, Nadal and later Djokovic (and Murray) were on the ascent.

Finally, there’s Andy’s out-sized personality. “Blessed with flair, intelligence and star power,” is the way one reporter described him. Another added, “His charisma and gravitas, character and engaging personality enabled him to absorb the highs and lows of life as one of the most successful, influential and quotable players in professional tennis.” I once asked ESPN commentator Cliff Drysdale which player he most liked to interview. “Andy Roddick always has something clever to say,” he responded. Roddick even guest-hosted “Saturday Night Live,” was featured in People magazine’s 2006 “Sexiest Man Alive” issue, and had the chutzpah to ask out and eventually marry the swimsuit model and actress Brooklyn Decker. In a sport that relies on star-power to fill the seats, Andy Roddick did more than his fair share.

Although he now resides in North Carolina (and elsewhere), Andy’s Austin bona fide are impeccable. He lived in the city from ages four to 11. “Caswell Tennis Center was my haunt as a kid—it’s where I took my first real lesson,” he told Golf magazine in 2019. “Mom would drop me off at 8 or 9 am, I’d eat lunch early and play all afternoon.” Early in his marriage, Andy and Brooklyn lived on a 15-acre estate near Bee Cave. Quite simply he says, “I’ll always call Austin home.”

Through tears after his last match in 2011 (a loss to Juan Del Potro), Andy said of his career, “I’ve loved every minute of it.” However, lingering injuries to his knees, ankles, shoulder and back—wrought by more than 800 matches—forced him out at a time when the game was getting even more physical.
One day in retirement, Andy strangely tossed nearly all of his hard-won trophies, cups and awards into the trash. His wife later explained: [He] decided that these don’t mean success to him; these don’t define him; and he really doesn’t care to have these material things sitting around the house, so he threw them in the trash.” Except for one. The trophy he lifted after winning the 2003 US Open. Long live Andy Roddick, our greatest “Austin Tennis Great.”

Disagree? Have an alternative Austin GOAT? Email the author at [email protected] Comments will be referenced in the next “Austin Tennis Great” column.
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