Saturday, September 1, 2012

Time Has Come Today

by Savannah


Andy Roddick told Serena Williams a year ago he was thinking of retiring at the 2012 US Open. She said she had been trying to talk him out of it from then until now.

Contrary to what some of the prima donna's of the tennis press felt it wasn't about them. The whole "oh it's just for his birthday cake" meme that was bandied about Twitter while the French sports press had already gone with the story of Roddick's retirement was kind of funny in retrospect.

Another of the big names had his "goodbye" blog post up less than an hour after Roddick made his decision public. Some felt this meant he was aware of what Roddick would say since a farewell to tennis column with the right sense of gravitas takes time to conceive, write and publish.

This could easily become a column about the tennis press reaction but it won't. I want to talk about Andy Roddick and what he has been to American tennis.

I'll start by getting to the ugly. He has gotten away with antics on court that if another player did them would've resulted in censure. Towards the end you knew how Andy felt about his chances in a match by how soon he'd start fighting with the chair. Audible profanities? Match officials didn't hear them. "Oh that's just Andy," is the phrase that was uttered by officials when asked.

It can be said Roddick was following in the American tradition of John McEnroe from the previous generation of American players, a tradition that should have been retired with McEnroe. It's still a tradition among some of the younger players - well one in particular - and seems to be an admired trait for American men.

The American style of tennis has been much maligned in some corners as "hit hard and harder". They're now calling it "quick fire" or "first strike" tennis. At one point Roddick didn't play that style. He played an early iteration of the modern tennis game, a game that could be played on all courts with adaptations of course, and a style that Europeans and South Americans have made their own. After he won the 2003 US Open that all changed. His European based coach was summarily kicked to the curb and Roddick adopted the serve oriented hard court focused style of play that came to be called American tennis.

I think all of the good and bad with Roddick's tennis can be traced to the USTA engineering of his 2003 US Open championship. It was one of the rainiest US Opens and Roddick's opponent had played back to back matches while Roddick came in well rested. Roddick was never the same after that win.

All of the above is relevant in discussing Andy Roddick's career but a retirement in an intimate sport like tennis is akin to a funeral. We rabid fans are a small part of an even smaller part of the wide world of sports fans and we tend to do what people do when a close friend has moved on - we talk about the good and gloss over or ignore the bad. "Don't speak ill of the dead" is the operative phrase here.

So lets talk about the one thing I think merits Andy Roddick's assured entrance into the Tennis Hall of Fame. Andy Roddick finished the year in the top ten every year from 2003 to 2010, a major accomplishment for a player, especially for a player whose game was more and more obsolete with every passing year.
As long has Andy Roddick was in the top ten American tennis was in good shape. There was no need to change the way juniors were taught to play because Andy Roddick was successful playing American tennis. Despite tennis professionals who said we had to go back to teaching the basics on clay before the establishment dug in its heels and hid behind the back of Andy Roddick.

That can't be done now. No matter what happens at the BJKNTC Andy Roddick will not be carrying the American tennis establishment on his back anymore. It's time to, as my mother, may she rest in peace, would say "fish or cut bait, crab or carry the basket". There is no American man who is even remotely ready to take on the European tennis juggernaut. American commentators may grovel at the altar of a non American player but when all is said and done said player is an all court player. We have no one.

Where do we go from here? American women seem to be ready to step up to the plate. Christina McHale and Sloane Stephens to name a few, look to be able to play a more nuanced game. Madison Keys is a young power player. Victoria Duval has true star quality. But the big wins by this group seem to be a year or so away at least. On the men's side current darlings Ryan Harrison and John Isner don't seem to have the temperament or the game to carry the torch. Mardy Fish is older and playing as well as he can at his age. The other promising men are still eligible to play juniors.

With Andy Roddick leaving the stage there is no one who can give the US tennis establishment cover. The debate over how juniors are developed will become louder now. Patrick McEnroe, the head of USTA Player Development has been arguing for starting kids out on clay - real clay not that green stuff - and has met stiff resistance. I hope that he continues to argue for and implement policies that will allow American kids to be able to become strong competitors on the world stage that is tennis instead of cannon fodder in international, and domestic draws. That topic will keep bloggers like me busy for some time.


So goodbye Andy Roddick. You gave it all and then some to the sport you love. You deserve a time to rest, adjust to civilian life, and to assess your life past, present and future. Getting up late and going to bed late is a beautiful thing.

No comments: