Roddick's Climb to the Top
article from USTA...just brings everything back.
Roddick's Climb to the Top
1/15/04 7:34 PM
By Greg Laub, USTA.com
After years of expectations, Andy Roddick finally made it all the way to the top. Along the way he came to a crossroads in his career, found a new mentor who turned him in the right direction, and hit a few bumps in the road on his way toward the ultimate dream season.
But in the end, he lived up to all the promise as the "future of American tennis" that he had been carrying around with him for what must have seemed like an eternity. He not only took the torch, he carried it all the way to the top.
It was September 2000, and Andy Roddick was making his Grand Slam debut. He was already being anointed the “future of American tennis,” and a lot of tennis enthusiasts looked forward to this tournament as the commencement of a promising career.
In the first round, though, against the No. 20 player in the world Albert Costa, the 18-year-old Roddick managed just one set off the Spaniard and was quickly eliminated.
But a dejected Roddick decided not to go home with his tail between his legs. That wasn’t his style. Instead, he dusted himself off and decided to stick around and return to the junior draw. He dominated the field and took home the title with ease.
At that point, people saw that he had the guts to take that form to the next level, it was just a matter of when.
"I'm part of the new generation, and obviously I'm playing a pretty big role in it," Roddick said after his junior title. "Hopefully, I'll be part of the next team that comes up through the pro ranks."
The next season he took a step toward that destiny, winning back-to-back titles in May on clay, then winning another in Washington, D.C. right before the US Open, where he thrilled the Flushing crowd by advancing all the way to the quarterfinals. He was well on his way.
But 2002 was more of the same, with Roddick taking home a couple more titles and, for the second straight year, struggling in the first three Grand Slams. He did manage to duplicate his success at the US Open, reaching the quarterfinals for a second time; however people were expecting more. They expected him to build on the previous year’s success. Some were beginning to wonder if the next step would really come after all.
The Dream Season begins... slowly
When 2003 began, Roddick was ranked No. 10 in the world, but he was still determined to get all the way over the hump to be one of the elite players in the game.
After a tune-up in Sydney, he began the year by advancing to the semifinals at the Australian Open, including an impressive win over Russian Mikhail Youhzny, and of course his unforgettable five-hour thriller against Younes El Aynaoui in the quarterfinals.
Down two sets to one, Roddick fought off match point at 4-5 and forced what would become a record-setting fifth set, finally ending with Roddick on top, 21-19. The buzz was around Roddick again.
However, once again Roddick followed up a promising show of talent with some inconsistent play. After his Aussie Open success, Roddick took home one crown and reached the final in two others over the next nine tournaments up until the French Open. In the other six tournaments, he had a measly 6-6 record.
Then at the French Open he hit rock bottom, losing in the first round for the second straight year, this time dropping three consecutive sets to Sargis Sargsian.
It seemed Roddick was at another career crossroads. Instead of licking his wounds and doing nothing to improve, he decided to do something he had never done in his career – call for help.
New Coach, New Attitude
Andy remembers his mother Blanche reading Brad Gilbert's book "Winning Ugly" when he was 13 and dreaming about life as a professional tennis star. Eight years later, Andy decided to make a phone call to Andre Agassi’s former mentor.
"The prospect of working with Brad is the one thing that sparked the most curiosity in me,” Roddick said. “I thought it had the best chance for being something really special."
The call was almost never answered.
"I think it was his youngest daughter, Zoe. She picked up, and I said, 'Is Brad there?' " Roddick laughed. "She said, 'No, he's not here right now.' And I said, 'Can I leave a message?' She goes, 'Yep, OK, bye.'”
But Roddick finally did get through, and he eventually hired Gilbert to be his coach just as the grass-court season was beginning in London. Ironically, Gilbert was on a plane to London at the time of Roddick’s first call to Zoe and was immediately excited upon hearing of the call.
"I was looking for the right young person with talent, and you could take them over the edge," Gilbert told reporters at Queens Club. “Phil Jackson waited for the Lakers. I waited for the right guy.”
The first thing Gilbert did when they met in London was remove the visor from Roddick’s head. He claimed it wasn’t doing much for the intimidation factor and only hindered Andy’s play.
Gilbert then went on to tinker slightly with every aspect of Roddick's game, and he made an immediate impact.
The Run to the Top
Roddick plowed through Queen’s Club, beating world No. 2 Agassi in the semifinals and Sebastien Grosjean in straight sets in the final for the first grass-court title of his career.
Wimbledon was next, and Roddick stayed hot, reaching a Grand Slam semifinal for the second time in the season, losing to eventual champion Roger Federer.
Still, some wondered. Was it just another flash? Could he finally gain some consistency and step up to the forefront of American tennis?
Well, with a new dominant 149-mph serve in his arsenal, Roddick went on to answer those questions with a flurry, continuing his unprecedented roll.
First he beat Paradorn Srichaphan to win the title in Indianapolis. Then he reached the semifinals in Washington, where he lost in a tie-breaker to Tim Henman. He had an 18-2 record with Gilbert.
But he was just getting started. After his loss to Henman, Roddick went absolutely bonkers.
He went to Montreal and dropped just two sets, beating the likes of Xavier Malisse, Sebastien Grosjean, David Nalbandian and Roger Federer along the way.
Then, in Cincinnati, he dropped just one set on his way to his second straight title (and fourth title in six tournaments with Gilbert), and in doing so he moved to the very top of the ATP rankings. The future of American tennis was sitting on top of the world.
But even with the five titles, the masterful streak of victories and a world No. 1 ranking, Roddick still needed one more title to finally put him over the hump and complete his magical season.
The Finale in Flushing
For all Gilbert had done for Roddick’s game, for all the titles won, all the award money earned, all the promise coming together, it was all headed for the climax in late August. Roddick was a pure talent who was finally on top of his game and playing like so many believed he could. Could he go all the way and parlay his hot hand into his career ambition – the US Open title?
While so much was going for Roddick on the court, he was dealt a huge blow off the court at the Open when the draws came out, and he was to play Henman in the very first round. Henman was not only the highest-ranked non-seeded player in the tournament, he was the one who Andy last lost to, way back in the semifinals in Washington.
But the fourth-seeded Roddick silenced the critics with a straight-sets victory over Henman and followed that potential scare with an actual scare – a tight four-set win over Ivan Ljubicic in round two. Ljubicic went on to complain that Roddick takes unfair advantages with his home crowd, to which a suddenly matured Roddick responded to by privately calling him that night and discussing the matter head on. A classy move. The next day, Ljubicic said that they had cleared things up completely.
Andy went back to his classy work on the court, winning the next three matches in straight sets, including a trouncing of No. 12 seed Sjeng Schalken. But in the semifinals he came across his first true challenge. Down two sets and in a third set tie-breaker, he was facing a match point against David Nalbandian. Suddenly he rallied and turned the momentum around to come back and win the match. The ability to keep his composure under such duress was just another new character trait of Andy's, a trait typically reserved for true champions.
“You know, probably if this would have happened a year ago, I probably would have freaked out that I was down, gotten upset,” Andy replied after the match. “I tried to keep it pretty even keel.”
It was a trait the fans were accustomed to seeing from two other favorites, Pete Sampras and Michael Chang. They had both retired the previous week, and it almost seemed like perfect timing for Andy to step up. The eyes were on Andy again. It was right there for the taking. He was being asked to take the torch for good.
If he was at all worn out from the marathon comeback the night before, or from all the questions, or all the pressure, he sure didn’t show it in the final against Juan Carlos Ferrero. In fact, he was like a boxer in the final round, or a climber who at long last sees the peak of the mountain. Roddick disposed of the red hot Ferrero in straight sets, then collapsed to his knees and celebrated his climb to the top of the world with tears in his eyes.
When all was said and done and he was finally holding that coveted Grand Slam trophy over his head, he had proved to the world that they need not wait any longer. Three years after he dusted himself off at the US Open and won the junior crown, he had officially arrived on the pro ranks.
Sometimes in sports three years can seem like a career. To Roddick it must have felt like an eternity. But the truth of it is, Roddick was the youngest man in the entire US Open draw. He was the fourth youngest No. 1 in the history of the ATP computer rankings, and when his dream year came to a close and he was still No. 1, he became just the second-youngest player to ever finish a season in that coveted spot. Makes you wonder why everyone was so impatient.
After his win at Flushing, he couldn't resist letting everyone know that he had enough of the eyes being on him, the questions, the pressure. He got to the posium and said, "No more, 'What’s it like to be the future of American tennis crap.' No more."
The wait of the world was finally off his shoulders. He fulfilled his promise in a big way.