Roddick, the clean A-Rod, is back in town
By Ann Killion
Mercury News Columnist
Posted: 02/10/2009 10:31:11 PM PST
A-Rod was cheered on Tuesday.
The clean A-Rod.
Andy Roddick, who shares a nickname with the tainted baseball player, played his opening-round match of the SAP Open. Afterward, he said he wasn't bothered by the doping scandal swirling around the other A-Rod, the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez.
"It makes me prouder of tennis," Roddick said. "We have the strictest testing in sports. We literally have to provide where we are hour by hour, every day. If I was to go to San Francisco for dinner for the night, I'd have to call it in."
Roddick went on to describe the uncomfortable testing process that his baseball counterpart never had to experience. A call on the home phone or a knock on the door at 6 a.m. An observer in the bathroom for a urine test. Possibly a blood test. An ID check.
"There's no question it's an inconvenience," Roddick said. "But if you're going to err, you should err on the side of being clean. I guess it's a necessary evil."
Roddick got a hero's welcome in his opening match. His adoring crowd included the usual flock of squealing teenage girls holding heart signs aloft, as well as a group of deep-voiced men who also shouted their devotion to Roddick.
Roddick won his opening match, dispatching 368th-ranked Michael Ryderstedt 6-0, 7-6 (7-3). The Swede gave Roddick trouble in the second set, but Roddick regained his serve in the tiebreaker and called it a night.
It may not be Melbourne, Paris, London or New York. But Roddick — the defending champion and three-time SAP winner — is king in this little corner of the world.
He is still America's top player. And, judging by the crowd's reaction, San Jose's sweetheart. But the sixth-ranked player in the world has been relegated to watching Grand Slam finals from the sidelines, thanks to the stranglehold Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have on the sport.
"It's frustrating," Roddick said. "Obviously you want to get in there."
After bursting onto the scene as the teenager with the big serve, Roddick's potential seemed unlimited. But then his fate became clear: He was the best American player in an era dominated by Federer, who is one year older than Roddick.
Now, it's even worse. He's the best American player in an era dominated by Federer and Nadal, four years his junior. Roddick first played Nadal at the U.S. Open in 2004. Back then, Roddick had no idea how good Nadal would become.
"No," Roddick said. "I came off the court and said 'he's good but he's going to have to serve better.' And now he serves a lot better. He does everything a lot better. He's come a long way."
Roddick is trying to get better, too. At times in recent years, it has looked like Roddick was settling for his fate as an afterthought in the battle for No. 1. He changed coaches, at times he didn't seem to be in great shape mentally or physically, he was often bounced in the early rounds of Grand Slams.
But now, at 26, Roddick seems serious about doing the most with his talent while still in his prime. He recently hired well-regarded Larry Stefanki, a former Cal tennis player who also coached John McEnroe. Under Stefanki's guidance, Roddick shed about 15 pounds, hit the track and got into great shape.
He's also making some personal changes. He's scheduled to marry swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker this year.
The overhaul paid off last month. Roddick made it to the semifinals of the Australian Open — the furthest he has advanced in a Grand Slam in two years. But the result was another beating by Federer.
Roddick, already back in the United States, didn't watch the dramatic final between his adversaries. Instead he opted to sleep in.
Because the drug testers apparently let him.