A few years ago, Andy Roddick was one of the many nameless and faceless teenagers with a dream playing on the Futures circuit.
Today, he is the darling of tennis and called the future tennis star. Armed with a 140 mph serve, Roddick opened the eyes of the tennis world with a stunning upset against top players who have held the No.1 ranking: Pete Sampras, Marcelo Rios (at the Ericsson Open), Carlos Moya ( in Montreal) and Gustavo Kuerten (in Montreal).
Roddick has only been a professional tennis player for just 19 months, already Roddick is quickly becoming a marquee draw for star-starved tennis fans. His face adorns the cover of the latest Tennis Week magazine, above the headline "Finally more hope than hype." He's been featured in Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine, the New York Times, USA Today, People, The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn and has been voted the Most Beautiful Man of September 2001.
Roddick is the heir apparent to the American tennis throne. In fact, that title now follows him like tin cans on a string behind a newlywed couple's car. Behind Pete Sampras-like aces and Jimmy Connors-like antics, he has skyrocketed from No. 338 in the world to No. 18 entering the U.S. Open. With 140 mph serves, aggressive ground strokes and unbridled passion, he has won three tournaments and the attention of tennis fans young and old. Born in Omaha, Neb., raised in Austin and now living in Boca Raton, Fla., Roddick is still just a kid. But many are predicting that soon he will be a king.
“We should be very excited about him,I haven't been this interested in watching someone play tennis in a long time.”
“I think he is the real deal,” said Tom Gullikson, who worked with the U.S. Tennis Association.
“He's proven it. He's won on clay. He's won on hard courts. He's worked his way up through the challenger level and built his game and built his confidence."
“There's a real fire burning in Andy. He has shown that he can play at this level, and he has made unbelievable strides as far as how quickly he has made progress,” McEnroe said.
The media attention has been relentless. Roddick is one of the hot stories on the ATP Tour this season, especially in the United States. That picked up this past week as he steamrolled into the quarterfinals at the Tennis Masters Series Canada and the US OPEN.
Off the court, Roddick loves pizza and tends to call people “dude.” Players and tennis officials say he is humble, polite and has his ego under control. His coach, Tarik Benhabiles, praises Roddick's work ethic and has said, “Andy has no limits.” Roddick watches Sampras and Agassi closely, not just their tennis, but how they conduct themselves as professionals. “I think Andy's a good guy,” Agassi said in Miami. “He's a quality person who is very considerate of people around him and his environment. ... I like his game. (And) I like the way he handles himself.”
Said Rick Ferman, executive director of the U.S. Tennis Association: “He's candid. He's direct. It's a real treat to listen to somebody that's reacting in such a genuine manner.”
At the French Open, Roddick pulled a hamstring during a match against Lleyton Hewitt and had to retire. But while limping off the court, he still stopped to sign autographs. After winning a rain-delayed semifinal in Houston before a few hundred fans, he grabbed the microphone, thanked people for staying, then offered to buy tickets for anyone who wanted to come back for the final the next day. “I just felt it was the right thing to do,” he said later. He never did find out the total bill. He asked tournament officials to deduct the money from his prize check.
“It's just who I am,” Roddick said. “I'm not acting or trying to be like that. There are still a lot of players out there who are better than me. I've had a good year, but I'm still working to be better. “You don't want people thinking you're a bad guy. That wouldn't be cool.
My parents always taught me to respect people who deserve to be respected. I don't think that's anything special; I just think that's normal.”
When he was 10 and watching his brother, John, at a junior national tournament, Andy approached a Reebok official and said: “I might be a good player some day, and I need to have some clothes.” Reebok became his sponsor for the junior national team and now has a baseball cap with its logo on the back, so when Roddick wears it backward, the logo shows. “I kind of just schmoozed my way,” he says, laughing.
For several years, as U.S. tennis fans and officials anticipate the retirements of Sampras and Agassi, the search has been on for the next great U.S. star. For now, that title has fallen upon Roddick.
So, is Roddick the future of American tennis? “I get that asked probably more than any other question,” Roddick said. “I'm not going to replace Andre and Pete, but I am going to be around for a while and I am from the U.S. I'm going to try my best to play some good tennis.
“I definitely feed off the buzz. I play my best in those type of situations. If that creates an intense atmosphere, then I enjoy it.”
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