Considering he is one year younger than Roger Federer, who has just finished the season as world No 2, it hardly seems right that Andy Roddick is competing at this week’s Statoil Masters Tennis. The likes of Pat Cash, Andrew Castle and Mansour Bahrami are the names you more readily associate with the annual nostalgia fest at the Royal Albert Hall rather than a 32-year-old American who was playing in the Wimbledon final as recently as 2009.
Roddick, nevertheless, is more than two years into his retirement and the thought of spending a week in one of his favourite cities helped to persuade him to enter his second event on the ATP Champions Tour. He will join another Albert Hall debutant, Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez, to compete alongside regulars like Tim Henman and Mark Philippoussis. Returning to London for the first time since the 2012 Olympics, Roddick looked around the Albert Hall for the first time today, his eyes agog at its splendour.
But for a long-term shoulder injury, Roddick might still be playing at the top level now. Even with the injury he might have carried on if he had been able to pick and choose his appearances, but the ranking system and the number of mandatory tournaments on the modern men’s tour mean that players who want to compete at the top have to choose between all or nothing.
Roddick clearly does not approve. “If Andre Agassi wanted to play only eight events a year we should have held on to him for absolutely as long as we could have,” he said. “If I’d had the option to play eight or 10 events, I might have thought differently about retirement.”
The American, nevertheless, is more than happy in his new life, which was evident as he chatted in relaxed fashion at the Albert Hall. “Retirement was easier than I thought it would be,” he said. “I thought some days you would wake up and you would feel like you’d been kicked in the stomach because you missed it.
“I certainly missed it but I was fulfilled and I felt like I had enough going on in my life. The part that I missed wasn’t the travelling or the hotels. It was the discipline of being on the track at eight o’clock, having a process to the day. When I had all the free time in the world it was a little awkward at first. The first six months I didn’t really do too much. I’d wake up in the morning and then take a nap. Since then I’ve got busier.”
Andy Roddick with Roger Federer after losing the 2009 Wimbledon men’s singles final Andy Roddick with Roger Federer after losing the 2009 Wimbledon men’s singles final (Getty)
He added: “When I retired I said the one thing that I wasn’t scared about was the people I was going home to. For a lot of tennis players their social life exists on tour. That wasn’t the case for me. I always had a distinct home life, with friends who didn’t have anything to do with tennis. I was happy when I won, but tennis didn’t define me.”
Coaching – and, in particular the travelling that it would involve, – does not appeal to Roddick, whose main connection with sport these days is through his broadcasting work with Fox back in the United States. He appears on a nightly sports news and highlights programme – working on all sports – and on radio and podcasts. “I still work on my foundation back home and I have a commercial real estate company,” he added. “And I still moonlight as a tennis player every once in a while.”
Roddick is sure to be given a great reception when he plays his first match tomorrow, having always been popular with the public here. Queen’s was one of his favourite tournaments and he reached three Wimbledon finals, losing to Roger Federer each time. When the American sat disconsolately on his seat at the end of the last of them in 2009, having just lost the deciding set 16-14, the Centre Court crowd broke into a chant of “Roddick! Roddick!” in a remarkable show of affection.
“On paper it’s not something that should work, right?” Roddick said as he recalled his relationship with the public here. “The obnoxious, opinionated American with the British sporting crowd? At the end of it I guess they appreciated my honesty. People pretty much knew what I thought and they knew what they were getting.”
Roddick still follows the sport and was intrigued by Federer’s clash with his fellow Swiss, Stan Wawrinka, at last month’s Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London. Wawrinka was unhappy about heckling by Mirka, Federer’s wife, and complained to the umpire, saying she had done the same at Wimbledon.
“If it had happened at Wimbledon, then it seems to me that was a conversation that should have happened behind closed doors a lot earlier in the year,” Roddick said. “I don’t know that in the middle of the O2 Arena calling someone’s wife out is the best place to go about that, especially when it’s a friend.”
Roddick has not been surprised by Federer’s resurgence this year. “Last year everyone was saying: ‘He’s changed, he’s a different player.’ No, his back hurt. He wasn’t practising. He was pretty up front with that. In his prime – which I saw a lot of – he was the best offensive player in the world and the best defensive player.
“Last year he wasn’t playing defence, so that meant he was playing more high-risk tennis. He was pulling the trigger early in rallies, not getting that rhythm and missing more. Then confidence goes. But to my mind he just had to get healthy and regain his speed.”
In his broadcasting role Roddick interviewed Federer at the US Open. He was fascinated by his former rival’s response when asked how he continued to find his motivation. “Roger said: ‘Well, I like winning more than I hate losing.’ It was so simple in his mind. I don’t think he knows the torture that the rest of us go through. If I lost I was just p***ed off for days.”