After hearing all the hype that a hotshot high school senior had the game to become America’s future star, I eagerly watched all of Andy Roddick’s matches at the 1999 Orange Bowl World Junior Championships. He lived up to expectations in more ways than one.
Not only did Roddick perform with a fiery competitiveness reminiscent of Jimmy Connors en route to the prestigious title, but afterwards he entertained the media with funny quips. When asked what his father did for a living, he replied, “He used to own Jiffy Lubes, but now he thinks he’s a stockbroker”—explaining that his father logs on to his computer every morning and “tries to figure out what’s happening” in his new field.
When I interviewed Roddick after his victorious final and asked him to describe himself with three adjectives, he quickly replied, “Cocky, funny and happy.” He noted that Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras were his two favorite players to watch. Then he revealed that winning wasn’t everything in an individual sport by saying, “Those two are great for tennis.”
Tabbed as “America’s Next Great Hope” then, Roddick turned out to be great for tennis too, though he never came close to matching the achievements of all-time greats Sampras and Agassi. Still, Roddick gave us plenty to appreciate and enduring memories. Here are five reasons we’ll miss Roddick.
His Competitiveness — Whether it was winning the 2003 US Open or losing four major finals, including the heartbreaking 2009 Wimbledon marathon (16-14 in the fifth set) to superstar Roger Federer, or struggling against lesser foes in early rounds, Roddick always fought hard. As former Australian Davis Cupper and ESPN analyst Darren Cahill said, “He may not have been the best tennis player on the court, but he was always the best competitor on the court. He threw his heart and soul into every match.”
His Fan Appeal — Early in his pro career, he pledged he would sign autographs for his fans “until my hand cramps.” He usually did. He “high-fived” front-row spectators after big victories. He was popular with guys because of his power game—especially a rocket serve hit a record 155 mph in 2004—and never-say-die spirit. Girls and women also liked his good looks, winning smile and engaging personality. During a Centre Court match at Wimbledon in 2005, a chorus of girls sweetly shouted, “We love you Andy!” On the opposite side of the stadium, another group of girls shouted, “We love you, too!” And then the first group countered, “We said it first, Andy!”
His Davis Cup Success and Loyalty — Roddick had four career goals: win the US Open and Wimbledon, finish a year ranked No. 1, and capture the Davis Cup. Going 6-0 in 2007, he led the U.S. team to 4-1 victories over the Czech Republic, Spain and Sweden, before they crushed defending champion Russia in the final in Portland, Oregon, for our first Davis Cup since 1995. “He was the rock of the Davis Cup team for so many years,” praised doubles star and teammate Mike Bryan. Equally important, his leadership and passion for Davis Cup made it virtually mandatory for other leading Americans to play Davis Cup every year. Roddick wound up with a 33-12 career singles mark in 25 ties (from 2001–09 and 2011), one of the best and longest Cup records in American history.
His Courage and Integrity — While Roddick occasionally abused umpires over officiating decisions, he always played fair and square. He once overturned an Italian Open line call in his favor on match point and then lost the match to Fernando Verdasco. He invariably helped fellow players in times of need. When the United Arab Emirates’ denied Israeli Shahar Peer a visa to play in the WTA Tour event there, the following week he protested by refusing to defend his title in Dubai. In 2004, he saved fellow tennis player Sjeng Schalken and his wife from a Rome hotel fire—with nowhere else to go, they moved out to their balcony and jumped three meters to Roddick’s balcony and into his open arms.
His Entertaining News Conferences — Roddick could be combative and sarcastic, but he was usually highly intelligent and funny. Opposing on-court coaching, Roddick pointed out, “Tennis is unique in the fact you actually have to think for yourself. Most sports, you’ve got a coach talking to you or a caddie talking to you or a pit crew talking to you or something. I like the fact it’s kind of one-on-one.” On his wife, 23-year-old Brooklyn Decker, who was co-starring in her first feature film, Just Go With It, he said, “She’s in some sort of love triangle with people named Sandler and Anniston. She had to make out with one of them. So, we’re excited about it. Not the making out with Sandler part.” Roddick could also be endearingly self-deprecating. After appearing as guest host on “Saturday Night Live,” he quipped, “The way I see it, the more matches I win, the cooler I get. You can ask anyone who knows me. I’m still the biggest dork that ever lived.”
Paul Fein has received more than 30 writing awards and authored three books, Tennis Confidential: Today’s Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies; You Can Quote Me on That: Greatest Tennis Quips, Insights, and Zingers; and Tennis Confidential II: More of Today’s Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies. Fein is also a USPTA-certified teaching pro and coach with a Pro-1 rating, former director of the Springfield (Mass.) Satellite Tournament, a former top 10-ranked men’s open New England tournament player and No. 1-ranked Super Senior player in New England.