Re: The "We Love You, Dean!" Australian Open Thread!!
'Amped' Roddick energises tennis, rock 'n' roll-style
January 16, 2005
In the conservative world of professional tennis, American Andy Roddick is a breath of fresh air, writes Rohit Brijnath.
If you don't know what "totally amped" means, perhaps you need a dictionary of slang. If you're not familiar with "peace out", look that up, too. If you're new to the phrase "Hey all, what's shakin'?", get used to it.
If you want to be part of Andy Roddick's world, English as you know it is not going to be enough. Neither is sport as you know it. Good thing, too.
If Roger Federer's stylish game with its improvisatory touches is all jazz, and the steadfast baseliners with their sheet music present as classical musicians, then A-Rod (Andrew Stephen Roddick just doesn't fit) with his percussive serve and drum-roll forehand, is a bit of rock 'n roll. In the conservative confines of tennis, he's the dude we've been waiting for.
Roddick refreshes the parts most players cannot reach, a fellow who hired a bus last year with his tennis buddies and made a road trip across parts of America mostly unfamiliar with live tennis.
So there was this superstar in Mobile, Alabama, and Nashville, Tennessee, music on the courts, people occasionally talking to players and players talking back, doing what does he best - making a connection with cool crowds.
Fun is at a premium in professional sport. Free spirits are frowned at, news conferences sound like dirges. Marat Safin drops his shorts on court and officialdom harrumphs. Despite what we are told, sport is not a matter of life and death, and there is room for an expression of personality.
Roddick has chatted up talk show hosts, hosted Saturday Night Live, high-fived opponents, shaken the net and growled, and once responded to a reporter at Wimbledon, who asked him about whether he enjoyed being a sex symbol, by saying: "Do you want to go to dinner later?". He looks a young athlete enjoying his living, comfortable in his skin, and tennis can only be better for it.
As former world No. 1 Jim Courier, who himself once read Armistead Maupin's Maybe the Moon at changeovers and partly delivered his French Open victory speech in the local language, told The Sunday Age: "I think Andy's animation on court is terrific for tennis."
Courier believes his young successor understands the vanishing value of the athlete connecting with his audience, and that the contrasts between Roddick, the contained Federer and Hewitt, animated in his own way, serve the game well. Roddick's free spirit is not absent of warts, and he is still capable of sporadic lip to umpires and infrequent snaps at spectators, but remains some distance from any stereotypical label of "ugly American".
If he is no buttoned-up conservative, he is no outrageous rebel either, but inhabits his own ground in between, his flying of the Davis Cup flag last year pleasing even to traditionalists.
Always he has been viewed as America's future, and he has suffered this pressure with a pleasing equanimity; his nation now has reason to preen, for not only has it found a fine player for this generation, but he is salvation mostly with a smile, neither crotch-grabber nor aloof, like some of his more famous US predecessors.
In news conferences, he may occasionally sit marble-faced but his responses are thoughtful, honest and frequently droll.
Even during last year's Davis Cup final, in the midst of a cauldron of disappointment, when asked what he would tell his grandchildren of the experience, he shot back: "Bud, we're looking way ahead, aren't we; I don't even have a girlfriend and already I have grandchildren!"
Perhaps most striking was his poise in defeat after last year's Wimbledon final, not just in his unqualified praise of Federer, but in his candid admission that until he started winning matches against the Swiss, "rivalry" was not an appropriate description of them. After losing yesterday's Kooyong Classic final, the world No. 2 had won but one of 10 matches against the No. 1.
Improbably, there was a time when he, now 188 centimetres, was "Little Roddick", not merely because the tennis-playing Roddick in the family was brother John, but because Andy was a small kid. Then he swiftly grew, in size and stature.
His ascension up the rankings was rapid, from winning his first tournament in 2001 to world No. 1 in 2003, but, like his peers, must now feel the passing frustration of being born in the era of the Swiss. Abruptly, his game looked even more unsubtle in comparison and absent of variation.
Still, this week David Nalbandian, when questioned on Roddick's weaponry, raised his eyebrows as he said "serve" and then added "forehand, a very good forehand", which looks and sounds from some angles like a sledgehammer. Courier adds it's "good news" that Roddick has been No. 1, and collected a major (2003 US Open), yet still has room to expand and advance his repertoire. It is a roundness of game he needs to make a persistent challenge for greatness.
Roddick's sense of adventure is not restricted to road trips but journeys to the net, not to be derided in an age when most blanch at the word "volley". Courier sees him "getting to the net more often", but suggests he has room "to get better at his attacking game".
Part of that process, Courier says, is for Roddick "to play further up in the court", inside or at the baseline, for camping behind it leaves him in defensive positions, making it all the more difficult to dictate rallies. This shift in court position, explains Courier, would also enhance his backhand, an inelegant shot that may escape definition as a weakness but scarcely qualifies as a weapon, despite the addition of a slice.
Courier contends that since Roddick doesn't "generate as much (racquet) head speed (on the backhand) as he does on the forehand", it is tougher to play defence from the back. And thus the closer he gets to the baseline the more effective his backhand becomes.
Yet, whatever dimensions Roddick must add to his game, he is advantaged by his age (22) and an understanding that any progress will arrive from sweat.
This week, he explained that his new coach, Dean Goldfine, told him: "I'm not going to take any of your nonsense. If we do this, we are going to go to work and we are going to work really hard."
Said Roddick: "I loved that." The result has been a concentration of training that Roddick says he has not done since he was 15.
The truth is Roddick might appear occasionally in Rolling Stone and Elle, but primarily he is a tennis player, judged not by magazine covers but tournament titles. He may be charismatic and sociable, but he is also driven by a fury to succeed (he recently said even his practice matches with Andre Agassi were played with an elevated intensity).
To be entertainer and champion is not a conflict of ideas, but it is not an easy balance to maintain, and one day he might feel the need to handcuff his personality, to subdue his natural man, which would be a pity. But until that day at least, we are mostly pretty much amped to be part of Andy Roddick's world.