Really cool old article - "Fast Andy No Longer?"
Found this at tennisone.com when I was perusing... love it!!! (And for those tired of the same old same old, this one's different and well worth the read!)
Fast Andy No Longer?
By Kim Shanley
September 15, 2003
To The TennisONE Community
Andy Roddick's defeat of Juan Carlos Ferrero to win the 2003 US Open was a remarkably undramatic event. If Napoleon were observing the Roddick/Ferrero match, he would have said that in tennis, like war, God favors the big battalions. In Sunday's final, it was Roddick who brought to bear the big battalions: bigger serve, bigger forehand, bigger body. Roddick simply bore down against a lighter-weight Ferrero, whose energies had been drained in defeating the indomitable spirit of the game, Andre Agassi, in a tough four set semi-final match.
The drama of Roddick's victory wasn't in the match or his post-match ramble into the stands to embrace his family and entourage. That was a nice (and almost expected?) photo-op for the media, but the real drama was an internal drama. You can only see this drama if you widen your lens, and hold in your viewfinder both Andy's celebration of his 2003 US Open victory and his bitter defeat in the 2001 US Open quarter-finals.
Cut to the fifth set of Roddick's titantic struggle against Leyton Hewitt. Roddick is down 4-5 in the fifth set, serving at 15-15. Roddick hits what he thinks is a winning shot down the line. The linesman signals the ball in, but umpire Jorge Dias over-rules and gives the point to Hewitt. Roddick goes beserk, ranting at the umpire for three minutes:
"It was right on a line. Are you an absolute moron?" Roddick raged.
Roddick is given a code violation for his tirade. What's worse, he can't regain his composure, and Hewitt goes on to break him and win the match and eventually moves on to win his first US Open title. After his match, Roddick said, "It's unfortunate that I blew up and it ended the way it did. It's pretty disheartening when you fight for that long and something like that happens. You feel as if someone reaches inside you and takes something."
Roddick's reaction reminded me of Paul Newman playing Fast Eddie Felson in the classic film The Hustler, which also starred Jackie Gleason as the legendary Minnesota Fats and George C. Scott as the corrupt gambler Gordon. At the beginning of the movie, Fast Eddie challenges the unbeatable Minnesota Fats to a game of pool. In a marathon game that lasts 40 hours, Eddie leads Fats for more than 24 hours, but Fats is unperturbed and refuses to concede defeat. Fast Eddie, uncertain of who he is and what he stands for, starts to drink and eventually loses all his money to Fats. Afterwards, when Fast Eddie whines to Gordon (George C. Scott), the ultimate cynical gambler, Gordon has no sympathy for Eddie:
"Sure you got drunk, the best excuse in the world for losin'. No trouble losin' when you got a good excuse. And winning, that can be heavy on your back too, like a monkey. Drop that load too when you got an excuse. All you gotta do is learn to feel sorry for yourself. That's one of the best indoor sports, feelin' sorry for yourself."
So Roddick indulged himself in a bit of self-pity during and after his loss to Hewitt in the 2001 US Open, and you can hear him struggling to reach maturity but not quite making it. "I'm definitely disappointed in myself for letting it do that to me. Maybe the more experienced I get I'll learn to handle things like that but at the same time I had a pretty damn good reason for it. It wasn't a ball he could say `I clearly saw it 100 per cent out.' If he can say that he's a liar."
Our film of Fast Andy Roddick now cuts to his epic fifth set match against Younes El Aynaoui in this year's Australian Open quarter-final. Roddick demonstrated his innate grit to reach a tie-break at 19-all in the fifth set. But at that moment, it's clear that Andy still hasn't shed his self-image as a tennis prodigy and teen-rock entertainer. At 19-all in the fifth set, Roddick, presumably to break the tension and get a laugh from the crowd, sent a ball boy out receive the serve from El Aynaoui. Afterwards, Roddick said, "I was the one who bailed first and handed my racket to the ball kid," said Roddick. "I thought that was a really cool moment though." It did appear to be a genuine humorous moment, as Aynaoui graciously played along, sending another ball boy out to serve for him. Whether Roddick's humorous gambit broke Aynaoui's concentration or not we'll never know (Aynaoui didn't complain), but Aynaoui did lose the next two points and Roddick took the fifth set at 21-19 and won the match.
Over the next six months, we see a montage of quick cuts of Roddick fist-pumping, screaming at himself, laughing at himself, glaring at his opponents, but these scenes always end with Andy walking off the court in defeat. After a particularly bad showing at this year's French Open, Roddick fires his long-time coach Tarik Benhabiles and hires Brad Gilbert. If we're comparing Andy Rodick to Fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler, then Gilbert has to play Gordon, the cynical but realistic gambler. One could see Gilbert having the same talk with Roddick that Gordon had with Fast Eddie. Agonizing over his loss to Minnesota Fats, Fast Eddie whines that he should have won because he has more talent.
Gordon: "Everybody's got talent, I got talent. You think you can play big-money straight pool or poker for forty straight hours on nothing but talent?"
Gordon summarizes the difference between Fast Eddie and Minnesota Fats: "Character. Minnesota Fats's got more character in one finger than you got in your whole skinny body."
So Gilbert started to work with Fast Andy, just as he had started his work with Andre Agassi back in March 1994. Gilbert shifted Agassi's "image-is-everything" mentality to a "competing-is-everything" ethos that earned Agassi six Grand Slam titles and a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics. Rather than indulging Roddick's self-image as a teen tennis god, Gilbert told Roddick he needed to improve in every area of his game, including his supposedly "unreturnable" serve. Gilbert told Andy the truth, his serve was returnable, that he needed to vary the placement, speed, and spin to maximize his chances of winning. This was Gilbert's first lesson in character: you're not as good as you think you are. Gilbert also taught this lesson to Agassi, who early in his career would go for broke on shots to amaze the crowd, and if he missed and lost the match, well, he could still tell himself that he was Andre Agassi, tennis wunderkind. Gilbert posed the essential question to Agassi and Roddick, "Are you willing to give up everything to reach your potential as a tennis player?"
Apparently, just like Agassi before him, Roddick was ready to answer in the affirmative. Instantaneously, Roddick began just to focus on playing tennis rather than acting the teen prodigy playing tennis. Roddick won the Wimbledon warm-up grass court event at Queens, and fought well in his loss to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon semi-finals. Throughout the summer hard-court season, it's been all Roddick, with Roddick running up a 37-2 match record under Gilbert's tutelage (rivaling Agassi's great summer run in 1995). Five times this year, including his semi-final match at the US Open against Nalbandian, Roddick came back from being match point down to win.
During the final against Ferrero, Fast Andy never made an appearance. There were no beatific smiles, no raging disgust, no fist-pumping, no staring down the opponent. Andy Roddick simply concentrated on playing unrelenting tennis for three sets and won his first Grand Slam title.
What happened to Roddick? He got himself some character. That's what Minnesota Fats recognizes at the end of The Hustler when Fats concedes after watching Fast Eddie Felson play just a few games. Fats has seen a shift in Fast Eddie's character. Fast Eddie knows who he is, what he can do, and he plays with dispassionate, fierce determination. The film ends when Fats graciously concedes that he can't beat Fast Eddie. In response, Fast Eddie responds:
Fast Eddie: "Fat Man, you shoot a great game of pool."
Minnesota Fats: "So do you, Fast Eddie."
Like everyone else, I was hoping for an Agassi-Roddick US Open final. The legendary Agassi could have played the Minnesota Fats role in our imaginary film drama. I can see the handshake at the net and what they would have said to each other:
Roddick: "A-Train, you play a great game of tennis."
Agassi: "So do you, Fast Andy."
Fade to Black (no wait)
And now our glossy, HDTV color film of Andy Roddick kissing the US Open championship cup dissolves to the grainy, black and white images of The Hustler. Has Andy Roddick truly past through the "Fast Andy" stage? Maybe. After the match, Roddick says, "You know what the great thing is?" Roddick said. "No more, What's it feel like to be the future of American tennis crap." I don't want to take anything away from Roddick's self-transformation over the past two years and his triumph at the Open this year. All hail, Andy, for what he's accomplished thus far. But let's face it, Roddick is only 21 years old, and his post-match comment leads me to think that he still hasn't purged himself of serving or rebelling from the image of himself created by others. So let's give our amalgamated character of Gordon/Gilbert, both cold calculators of talent and character, the last cautionary words on young Andy Roddick, who now represents all young champions:
Gordon/Gilbert: "And winning, that can be heavy on your back too, like a monkey. Drop that load too when you got an excuse."
Fade to Black (really)