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Join Date: Oct 2003
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Re: Andy the "Hero"
2004 Italian Open News
Eleanor Preston | May 3 , 2004
Matters of life and death are often equated, erroneously, with professional sport but every now and again something happens which brings reality crashing into a world of forehands and backhands.
At 5am on Saturday morning, reality intruded on the world of tennis in a terrifying and tragic way. Three people died in the fire at the Grand Hotel Parco dei Principi, the players' hotel in Rome, none of them involved in the tournament, and it was only by immense good fortune that the world of tennis was mourning far more than just a few burned racket bags.
"At least it was Friday night, so not many of the main draw players were here. If had been Sunday night, the hotel would have been packed," said Britain's Tim Henman, who was thanking his lucky stars he had chosen to put himself, his wife, and 18-month-old daughter up elsewhere. "We were all very lucky."
In such circumstances, heroes emerge from unexpected quarters. Andy Roddick's achievements on a tennis court have long been a source of pride to those around him but his actions on that morning would have made them far more proud than anything he did with a tennis racket.
Having been awoken by smoke, Roddick ran onto the balcony of his sixth floor suite and helped seven people trapped on the floor above him - including fellow player Sjeng Schalken and his wife Ricky - climb down to safety.
"I definitely helped people but I saw some stuff where it was like I was in there with the firefighters and that's definitely a little exaggerated," said Roddick, with a degree of modesty he is not always given credit for. "I definitely tried to help out a little bit but the fire guys were the real heroes, they were the ones who got us out of there and got us home safe."
Thirty players were staying at the hotel and many had harrowing stories to tell. Several of the players, mostly those who had flown in the night before from the US, had taken sleeping pills to combat jet-lag and, given that most agree that the fire alarms didn't sound, they have coaches and friends to thank for waking them.
Robby Ginepri took a sleeping pill and was woken by his coach John Thompson, who had been alerted by the commotion in the corridor.
"People were all yelling in the hallway 'fire, fire', said Ginepri. "I thought it was kids doing a prank at the beginning but they kept on yelling. We went outside and there was a ton of smoke in the corridor and you couldn't even see more than five feet ahead of you. Everyone was running frantically, trying to find the exit.
"When we got outside we saw flames coming from three different sides of the building and the windows were shattering, with glass everywhere. It was pretty real then. I have never been through anything like that. It was a very scary thing to have happen to you."
Ginepri's first thought when he got outside was to find his friends and fellow players, and he was alarmed when he couldn't find Roddick. "We were looking for Andy but he couldn't get out. He was one of the last to come down," said Ginepri.
"At the time it wasn't that scary because there was a lot of stuff going so my mind was kind of occupied," said Roddick, "but when I went through the ash and rubble at the end to get my stuff out of there, that's when it hit home a little bit more."
Italian No.1 Filippo Volandri, who had to be lifted to safety by firemen on a cherry picker, said he looked over his balcony and saw flames shooting up at him but said that most of the players involved remained calm.
"Maybe we are used to being in psychologically tense situations," he told Italian journalists. "There were lots of people outside crying a lot but all the players were very quiet."
Roddick certainly kept his wits about him when he needed it the most and while he was keen to play down his admirable behavior, Schalken in particular will not forget his selflessness in a hurry.
It will be business as usual today in Rome though, when Roddick must turn his attention to playing Guillermo Canas in the first round of the Italia Telecom Masters. Marat Safin, who arrived onsite at the tournament on Saturday morning wrapped only in a towel after losing rackets and other belongings in the blaze, plays Stefano Pescosolido. Wimbledon champion Roger Federer meets Jonas Bjorkman in what will be a tough match for both.
In Monday's action, Tim Henman ended his Rome hex by beating Florian Mayer 7-5 6-1 in the first round. Last year Henman lost in the first round after catching an ear infection from the earplugs he wore to help him sleep through his baby daughter's crying. The year before he had a stomach bug and succumbed just as quickly. He would argue that he was due a change of luck.
Carlos Moya moved quickly through to round two as did Vince Spadea, who scored an upset win over Monte Carlo finalist Rainer Schuettler.
None of it was a matter of life and death, but after last weekend’s events that was something to be thankful for.