August 30, 1982 • Omaha, Nebraska
Tennis player Andy Roddick had just turned twenty-one when he won the men's U.S. Open tennis title in September of 2003. The Florida athlete's rugged good looks and down-to-earth personality have helped make him one of the sport's newest celebrities, but it is his athleticism and powerful serve that have propelled him to the highest world rankings in men's tennis. Sports Illustrated writer L. Jon Wertheim asserted that Roddick has a new style, far from "the unimaginative, topspin-heavy baseline tennis that, lamentably, has characterized the U.S. juniors over the past 15 years.... Roddick plays Smash Mouth tennis. Armed with a bludgeon for a forehand and with a serve that regularly eclipses 125 [miles per hour], he just, as he puts it, 'whales away out there.'"
Roddick was born on August 30, 1982, in Omaha, Nebraska, and was the youngest of three boys. His father, Jerry, owned several Jiffy Lube automobile maintenance franchises. The family eventually settled in the Austin, Texas, area, where a very young Roddick took tennis lessons in a group that included two future professional athletes: Chris Mihm (1979–), later of the Boston Celtics, and Drew Brees (1979–), who became a quarterback for the San Diego Chargers. Both, Roddick has joked, were much better players than he was at the time.
Roddick was not the first tennis prodigy in his family. One of his older brothers, John, played on the junior circuit and made it into the top ten in the rankings during his teens. The family even relocated from Austin, Texas, to Florida so that John could train year-round. John was about six years older than Andy, and went on to run a tennis academy in San Antonio, Texas, after retiring from competition because of a back injury.
Roddick came from a well-to-do family that could easily afford the expensive lessons and equipment necessary for early training in tennis. He picked up a racket to follow in his brother's footsteps, and was intensely focused from an early age. He begged his mother to let him have a rebound net in the garage. "It had springs. You'd hit the ball and it came back to you," he explained to Neil Harman, a journalist for the London Times. "I'd spend hours on it and Mum would ask: 'What did you do today?' I'd say: 'I beat Lendl, Becker, Edberg,'" citing the names of three greats from the men's tennis circuit during the 1980s—Czech player Ivan Lendl (1960–), Boris Becker (1967–) of Germany, and Stefan Edberg (1966–) of Sweden.
"For whatever reason, I play well when it matters most. Toughness has never been a weakness of mine."
For his ninth birthday in 1991, Roddick's parents took him on a trip to Flushing, New York, where they watched the U.S. Open from the stands. "He would wear tennis clothes every day he came here," his mother, Blanche Roddick, recalled to Wertheim. "He got into the players' lounge with no credentials." At the age of fourteen, Roddick attended a tennis camp in Tampa, Florida, but did not like the intensely competitive atmosphere. Nor did he attend one of the well-known Florida tennis academies that train champions during their teen years. Instead he went to a private school near the Roddicks' Boca Raton home, and played on its basketball team.
Roddick's talent as a tennis player began to gain attention in late 1999, not long after his seventeenth birthday. He won two juniors titles in Florida, the Orange Bowl and the Eddie Herr International. In January of 2000, he traveled thousands of miles to play in the Australian Open. He was still in the juniors rankings, and surprised many when he became the first American male player since 1959 to win the junior men's title.
Sportswriters often compare Andy Roddick to Pete Sampras, the American champion who also began beating some of the world's top-ranked players at a very young age. Roddick has often said that Sampras was one of his idols when he was growing up, and his rise has been almost as quick as Sampras's, who won his first U.S. Open tournament at the age of nineteen in 1990. Sampras went on to win a record total of fourteen Grand Slam singles titles over the course of his career.
Watching a young Roddick play, many sportswriters have compared him to Sampras. Both had similar physiques, forceful serves, and a strong forehand that unnerved opponents. Roddick had actually beaten Sampras the first time they ever went up against one another on the court, in March of 2001 at the Ericsson/Lipton ATP tournament in Key Biscayne, Florida.
When Roddick won his first U.S. Open title, in 2003, sportswriters called the event the passing of the torch: Sampras had announced his retirement from professional tennis at the age of 32. He was honored for his achievements at a ceremony that took place on the first day of the Open. Thirteen days later, Roddick won the men's title that Sampras had taken four times before him. "Andy is the future," Sampras told W writer Robert Haskell a few months before he retired. "His serve is devastating, and he's got all those intangibles required to be a great player."
Though many colleges tried to recruit Roddick for their tennis programs, he decided to turn professional instead. This also allowed him to sign endorsement contracts with sportswear makers, tennis racket manufacturers, and other companies. In just the second match that Roddick ever played as a pro, he made a surprisingly good showing against one of his heroes, Andre Agassi (1970–), at the Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida. Agassi beat Roddick, but many sportswriters hailed the teen as the next big star of American tennis.
During the 2001 season Roddick struggled to fulfill that promise. There were several highlights, including the moment when he eliminated another one of his heroes, Michael Chang (1972–), early in the French Open in May. It was a long game that lasted nearly four hours, and halfway through it Roddick began suffering from leg cramps. He seemed to play more fiercely then, commentators noticed. He admitted at the post-match press conference that he had been determined to come out on top. "You don't play three and a half hours to lay down and die when it gets tough," he was quoted as saying by New York Times reporter Selena Roberts. "I was telling myself, 'Give it your all until the last ball is over.'"
Roddick failed to advance much further during the 2001 French Open. He was eliminated at Wimbledon and in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open later that year. Both Opens, along with Wimbledon and the Australian Open, are known as tennis's "Grand Slam" titles. They are the toughest and most prestigious tournaments, watched by millions around the world, and also come with generous cash prizes for a first-place win. In 2002 Roddick once again failed to win any of the Grand Slam titles.
In May of 2003, after a disappointing performance in the first round of the French Open, Roddick replaced his longtime French coach, Tarik Benhabiles, with a new pro. Benhabiles had been a strict coach with the teenage Roddick when he needed firm discipline, but Roddick was now twenty years old. He was dating actress-singer Mandy Moore (1984–) at the time, and it was rumored that Benhabiles was trying to limit Roddick's social life in order to keep him focused on his game. But the tactful Roddick claimed that he switched coaches only because he needed more help learning to play on grass courts like Wimbledon. "Our friendship was getting scarred," the athlete told Sports Illustrated, "because we weren't getting along tenniswise."
Roddick began working with Brad Gilbert, Agassi's former coach, in June of 2003, and began a winning streak almost immediately. Later that month he made it to the semi-finals on Wimbledon's grass, but was ousted by Roger Federer (1981–) of Switzerland. The next big match-up was in August at the U.S. Open, held in New York at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows, Queens. Though the tournament was repeatedly delayed by rain-outs, Roddick steadily beat his opponents and then eliminated Juan Carlos Ferrero (1980–) of Spain. At the time, Ferrero was the number one-ranked men's player.
In November of 2003 Roddick played admirably in the Masters Series Cup, and finished the 2003 season as the world's top-ranked men's player. He hosted the NBC series Saturday Night Live that same month. In May of 2004, he traveled to Rome, Italy, to play in another Masters Series tournament, where he was awakened by the smell of smoke at his hotel at five A.M. Roddick alerted other guests at the Grand Hotel Parco dei Principi, and took them onto his sixth-floor balcony to await rescue. He also helped others down from the balcony above his. He was the last one to be rescued by firefighters, and was praised for his heroics during the early morning blaze that killed three guests.
Later that month, Roddick was dampened by a loss to Olivier Mutis of France at the French Open. At Wimbledon, he broke his own speed record for a serve-153 miles per hour-and made it to the Wimbledon finals for the first time. On July 4, he lost to Federer over four sets. "Roger just played too good today," the New York Times 's Christopher Clarey quoted him as saying. "I threw the kitchen sink at him, but he went to the bathroom and got his tub."
Roddick was anticipating defending his U.S. Open title come August of 2004. He realizes that one injury could end his career, which happened with his brother, but his goal is to win a year's worth of Grand Slam titles and help America capture a Davis Cup win. He remains close to his parents, and has used some of the prize money from his winnings to buy a house near both of his older brothers in Austin, Texas. He has legions of fans, and has been the subject of numerous magazine features and photo spreads, but claims to be anything but cool. "You can ask anyone who knows me," he told Roberts. "I'm still the biggest dork that ever lived."
Adkins, Greg. "Splitting: Mandy Moore & Andy Roddick." People (March 29, 2004): p. 26.
Battista, Judy. "One Shot Is What Roddick Needed." New York Times (April 2, 2004): p. D6.
Bierley, Stephen. "Wimbledon 2003: The 117th Championships: Roddick Brings New Power to His Elbow and His Aces: The Young American Has Acquired the Look of a Champion." Guardian (London, England) (June 23, 2003): p. 1.
Bricker, Charles. "Boca Raton's Roddick Is the Teenager of the Hour." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (June 3, 2000): p. K5516.
Clarey, Christopher. "Federer's 2nd Title Just as Sweet." New York Times (July 5, 2004): p. D1.
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Haskell, Robert. "Hot Roddick: With a Potent Game, Heartthrob Looks and a Personality That Fills Stadiums, Andy Roddick May Be the Savior of Men's Tennis." W (April 2003): p. 270.
John, Elton. "Andy Roddick: The Two Stadium-Packin' Headliners—One a Legendary Tunesmith, the Other, Tennis's Next Legend in the Making—Talk Work and Play. (Elton John interviews tennis player)." Interview (July 2003): p. 56.
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Roberts, Selena. "No. 1 Is a Role Roddick Is Playing for Keeps." New York Times (November 14, 2003): p. D3.
Roberts, Selena. "Roddick Conquers Cramps, and Childhood Hero." New York Times (May 31, 2001): p. D5.
"Roddick's Fire Rescue." People (May 17, 2004): p. 18.
Vecsey, George. "A Brash Young American Comes of Age, and Cries." New York Times (September 8, 2003): p. D11.
Wertheim, L. Jon. "Andy Roddick Is Just Like You: Well, Except for Being the U.S. Open Champion and Being Ranked No. 1 in the World and Dating Mandy Moore. Other Than That, He's Everyman." Sports Illustrated (November 10, 2003): p. 72.
Wertheim, L. Jon. "Long Live The King: Andy Roddick, the Crown Prince of the American Game, Finally Assumed the Throne with a Commanding Victory in the U.S. Open Final." Sports Illustrated (Sept 15, 2003): p. 56.
Wertheim, L. Jon. "Rare Specimen Found in Florida: Andy Roddick Is the First American Boy to Win the Australian Junior since 1959." Sports Illustrated (Feb 21, 2000): p. R6.
Andy Roddick Official Web site. http://www.andyroddick.com/ (accessed on June 9, 2004).