A bad year? Roddick says that's 'a stretch'
It's not easy being Andy Roddick.
No, really, it's not.
One would figure that a player blessed with abundant talent and charisma, who went 59-14 in 2005 and won multiple titles while maintaining a No. 3 world ranking would be toasted as a success from Shanghai to Savannah.
But when you're 23 and carrying the flag of the men's tennis circuit, which is starving for its once-dominant tennis power to win his first Grand Slam victory since his precocious U.S. Open win in 2003, the expectations for success are different.
"It's weird, you know?" Roddick told ESPN.com at the recent BNP Paribas Masters. "Because when I'm 10, 11, 12 years old, I'm basically hoping I'm going to get a college scholarship one day. If someone would have told me then, 'You're [third] in the world, you've won five titles on every surface on the planet and it's a down year,' I would have been like, 'Well, geez, I'll sign up for that right now.'"
Roddick, who retreats to his lakefront home in Austin, Texas, in the rare moments he's not on the road, said it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what's behind the talk that 2005 has been a subpar year for him.
"To classify it as a bad year, I mean, I think that's a bit of a stretch. I would have loved to have done better in certain matches, and at times, I was maybe a little inconsistent, but, you know, if being No. 3 in the world and winning five titles is a bad year, I really look forward to a good one.
"I think the thing that made it a bad year was losing in first round at the U.S. Open [in three straight tiebreakers to Luxembourg lefty Gilles Muller]. That's it pretty much. But I don't base my year on one unfortunate night where I don't feel like I played well."
He followed up that disappointment with a clutch five-set win in a Davis Cup relegation-round match in late September against Belgium's pesky Olivier Rochus that ensured the Americans a spot in the 16-country World Group for 2006.
"That was huge for him because of the disappointing results at the Open," said coach Dean Goldfine, who Roddick hired after his split with former coach Brad Gilbert last December. "To win it the way he won it, a four-and-a-half-hour match, on clay, showed a lot about him and his character. It was a big confidence-booster for him."
Roddick then took a few weeks off before falling to big-serving Croatian Ivo Karlovic in the second round in Madrid. But he rebounded again, winning five straight matches to take the title in Lyon and then advancing to the Paris semifinals before a low-back strain and Ivan Ljubicic proved too much to overcome.
Straight off that loss, he flew home to honor a commitment to a charity event in Hershey, Pa., where he retweaked the back injury, leading to his decision to pull out of the season-ending Masters Cup in Shanghai.
He agrees with those who believe there is a need to reconfigure the ATP Tour and Grand Slams schedules to mitigate the wear and tear on players. Exhibit A for that argument would be the spate of withdrawals in Shanghai.
Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal joined Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin on the sidelines because of injury or personal considerations. After the mass dropouts, the Masters Cup is in danger of becoming known as The Incredible Shrinking Tournament.
"We as players know that the season is too long. If it continues to be this long, you can't expect the top players to be healthy for a year-end championship," Roddick wrote to ESPN.com in a recent e-mail. "The Masters Cup is a great idea, but there are just too many tournaments leading up to it."
Roddick boosted his overall title count to 20 with victories in San Jose, Houston, Queen's Club (London), Washington D.C. and Lyon. But he cites the win over Rochus in Belgium, along with advancing to his second Wimbledon final in two years (losing to Roger Federer in straight sets), as his 2005 highlights.
Despite seeing his season come to a premature end, he's enthused about bouncing back in 2006.
"I am pleased with how my game has progressed this year," Roddick said. "With Dean's help, I've added some new dimensions, for example, my transition game has improved tremendously, as has my fitness level. I look forward to going into 2006 feeling comfortable with these tools rather than just starting to develop them, as was the case this year."
Off the court, it was a busy year, as well. He signed a long-term endorsement deal with French clothier Lacoste and continued raising funds for children's charities through his Andy Roddick Foundation. An upcoming weekend extravaganza in Florida in early December hopes to add $1 million to the already $2.2 million raised since the foundation's inception in 2000.
When asked how long he may continue to play a game notorious for its demanding physical nature and unrelenting travel, Roddick responded, "It's too early for me to put a date on my retirement. I love the game and having the opportunity to play it for a living."
Roddick will now hope to rehab his back injury and grab some much-needed rest before heading to Hawaii to start intensive training for the Australian Open, which kicks off Jan. 16 in Melbourne.
Goldfine, for one, expects great things in the coming year, and beyond.
"My goal with Andy is to get him to be the best player he can possibly be," Goldfine said. "With the type of athlete that he is, the sky's the limit for him if he really continues to work on all phases of his game.
"He's volleying much better and understanding the net game more, but sometimes he drifts a little too far beyond the baseline, and he needs to make an effort to hit the ball early and take time way from guys, especially the top players. That's what Federer does so well."
A veteran of the men's tour and linchpin of the American Davis Cup effort despite his relative youth, Roddick said he'll use the knowledge from a challenging 2005 season to his advantage as he moves forward.
"You know, this year's made me hungrier," Roddick said. "I think more than anything, I've had to learn how to play for myself. It's a little tough at times. But it's just taught me a lot more about myself, and it's given me a bigger sense of perspective."
Whit Sheppard is a Paris-based sportswriter and frequent contributor to ESPN.com. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.