Andy Roddick hasn’t played much tennis since retiring at the end of last summer. Before Thursday night’s World Team Tennis match between the Springfield Lasers - Roddick’s team - and the Washington Kastles, he hadn’t hit more than three or four times. That’s a ten month span, the longest break he’s taken from the game since he can remember.
But though he isn’t quite in the same shape he was when playing at the highest level, and though you’ll see a mishit or an occasional shank off his racquet frame nowadays, Roddick still maintains the competitiveness that made him one of America’s greatest tennis talents.
While playing in the men’s singles and doubles matches on Thursday, or simply watching on the bench, Roddick let his presence be known. As a player he paced back and forth in characteristic fashion. As a spectator he feverishly bit his nails, couldn’t sit still, and chewed out the chair umpire when he disagreed with calls. Just because it wasn’t Wimbledon didn’t mean he didn’t care.
Participating in World Team Tennis has given Roddick an outlet, after almost a full year, to finally exercise the competitive fire that’s been hibernating for months.
“I don’t know that I was dumb enough to think that I could find something in I guess what we would call a normal existence that would replace the rush of Wimbledon or the U.S. Open. I think I’ve had an easier transition into retirement because I expected it to be difficult. I expected to miss Wimbledon when I watched it, I expected it to stir up emotions,” he said.
“I think it’s foolish to think if you’ve done something for so long that you can kind of just delete it out of your memory bank or delete any emotion attached to it. I never expected that. I knew when I retired what that meant. The good news is I still have mediums like this where I still can play a little bit and that’s great for me.”
The former world’s number one player wasn’t much help in the Lasers’ victory over the Kastles on Thursday, at least on the court. He lost the first set in men’s singles and admitted afterwards his team carried him.
But Roddick was the most active Lasers player from the bench, cheering on his teammates and standing up for them against the line judge. One controversial call siding with Springfield brought jeers from the pro-Kastles crowd. Roddick walked up to Alisa Kleybanova and said: “You know what the greatest sound in the world is? Boos at an away match. Let’s get it.”
Roddick was not as nice to the chair umpire throughout the night. On a close out call in the women’s doubles match, Roddick briskly walked over the chair and asked the official if he had too much on his plate. Was looking for the call and listening to the line judge too much for the umpire? “It’s not that hard,” Roddick said.
After the match Roddick said he got caught up in the moment and as a veteran of the game, knows the umpire’s job actually is a difficult one.
“He’s got a tough job. There’s not many more thankless jobs. When he’s doing his job that’s the way it should be and when there’s one that we disagree with, they’re wrong,” Roddick said.
With that in mind, arguing with officials just comes natural to the 30-year-old after all these years.
“That’s part of the fun,” he said. “I used to get fined if I talk to the umpire, I feel like I’d get fined if I didn’t now.”
Roddick is entering a new phase of his life as a retired athlete, he is staying in the game of tennis as a WTT player, but is also focused on the business side of sports. Roddick bought in to become a part owner of World Team Tennis in March along with Venus Williams, taking on a stake in the league’s future.
“There was a lot of thought before I decided to take the opportunity with World Team Tennis,” he said. “It’s fun. I really feel like there’s a place for it in the landscape of tennis here. The way Mark [Ein] has done it here, just with everything being thought of. With the video and the crowd and the chants, you can hear the music, and the freaky guy on stilts, all the stuff. It’s just well thought out, well done, and well executed. Here’s a successful product because of it.”
Roddick looks at the Kastles as a model that World Team Tennis can replicate around the country. He’s also a big fan of Washington, D.C. and now looks at the relationship between team and city from a business sense.
“I’ve always loved D.C. I had my first good tournament as a pro here when I was 17 years old. I’ve been coming here a long time and have a lot of great memories from the Legg Mason [Classic],” he said.
“It was definitely a spot that I always enjoy coming to. I’m glad that chapter’s not over, at least yet. I’ve been glad to see the success of the Kastles and the way Washington has embraced them as their team. They’ve been the ones creating the storylines for World Team Tennis the last couple of years so it’s been a huge part of our league as a whole, the way Washington has supported this franchise so far.”
As a player Roddick has no regrets in retiring, but did happen to notice in this year’s Wimbledon when both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal got bounced before the third round. He said he couldn’t help but research his record against those left standing in their side of the draw and wonder what if.
But Roddick will never know what would have happened if he were in the mix, for now his playing career continues in the WTT. And despite a creaky shoulder and a little rust in his game, Roddick is content with doing his best in a different realm of the sport.
“It’s gone better than I thought,” he said. “I’m kind of coming in with a pair of twos and going all in all the time. We’ll see if the bluff works.”