As many of you know I’m big NFL football guy. Love the game, the competition and every now and then someone says something interesting. One the memorable riffs I’ve heard was from then NY Jets coach Herman Edward, who during a press conference in 2002 made it crystal clear that “you play (sports) to win the game.” Simple as can be. We play to win. And I think that philosophy applies in tennis, and specifically to Andy Roddick, who I believe carries with him that same passion and focus, he plays to win.
Now I know Roddick also draws a lot of heat and venom from fans, critics, journalists and bloggers (even me sometimes), but the guy lays it out on the court every time out there.
And love him or hate him you have to give Roddick his fair due. At just 25 he’s already put together one hell of a career resume:
Roddick’s a sure-fire, first ballot Hall of Famer.
He’s won the Triple Crown of tennis – finished as a year-end No. 1, scored a Grand Slam title and won the Davis Cup.
He’s the last guy before Federer to rank No. 1 (a good trivia question no less).
He’s got the fastest serve ever recorded at 155mph.
He’s downright comedic at times. Remember his press conference after Federer wiped him out at the Australian Open last year.
He’s big into charitable causes, and he seems to carry himself the right way off the court.
And while top dog Roger Federer’s been rolling with longtime girlfriend Mirka, Roddick’s been making the most of his stardom by getting it on with movie stars (Mandy Moore), swimsuit models (Brooklyn Decker) and even WTA starlets (Maria Sharapova allegedly). Not bad for a scrawny kid from Nebraska.
Sure they are more talented, better all-around players than Andy in the game right now. But in my mind, if I needed someone to win a single match for me and Federer or Rafael Nadal weren’t answering their phone, I’d probably have pick Roddick.
Yet with all the good that comes with Roddick, there’s also the bad.
Last week Roddick drew the ire of many for his apparent bullying of 18-year-old Kei Nishikori in his second round win in San Jose. (I should add that thankfully Andy won San Jose preventing Radek Stepanek from breaking out that freaky worm dance again.) I didn’t watch the match, and maybe the reports were indeed exaggerated, but broke out some of his on-court intimidation tactics en route to victory.
Much like his coach Jimmy Connors did before him, Roddick enjoys strutting his stuff, smack-talking his opponents and making it abundantly clear that when he’s not playing guys named Federer, Nadal, Safin or engaged in battles with his fellow American friends, the court is his, that he’s the boss. (Now c’mon, wouldn’t we all love to see him try to drop his act on Federer or Nadal?)
If you are offended by such antics from Roddick I completely understand. If you want to call him in an obnoxious asshole or a jerk for his routine that’s fair. The guy’s not trying to or going to, for that matter, win the sportsmanship award anytime soon. But what Roddick is trying to do is win the match in whatever way possible, within the rules. And if that means he needs to verbally attack the opponent, than that’s the measure he’ll take.
Like it or not, at least the guy owns up to it.
Said Roddick after the win over Nishikori: “Tonight, I just needed to make my presence felt a little. Make him think about something other than how well he’s been playing…. I’ve been a brat for a long time. This isn’t something that came along in the last year and a half with Jim. … Things were happening for him without him thinking so I wanted him to think about other stuff and not how well he’s playing. There was nothing personal in it. He’s probably not that happy with me for doing that. But I don’t need any young friends.”
Well, Jimmy may or may not have given you the manual on how to act like a brat on court, but Andy, I’m sure he’s not stopping you from doing it. And for Connors, there’s no reason for him to do so.
I honestly get the sense that Roddick feels that against some players he needs to make his “presence felt” to give himself a better look at a win or win at all.
Fact is, Roddick’s serve is being returned more and more each year, and his forehand seems to have lost some of the sting it once had. Wins are not coming any easier for Roddick, and he’s finding it increasingly tougher to make an impression on his opponents on court, and that’s where this gamesmanship comes in. And that’s why I think we’ll only see more of this ruthless, aggressive behavior from Roddick in future.
Roddick also understands that tennis is such a thinking game, that tennis pros operate on such a mental tightrope that any kind of disruption to their concentration – be it an amusing comment or an in-your-face trash talk remark – could through off their rhythm and ultimately through off their game. As Roddick said, make the other guy think about other stuff and not just how well he’s playing.
Is it a dirty move? A form of gamesmanship? Probably. But there’s no rule against it directly. So if you play Roddick you might want to prepare to be verbally blasted and deal with it. Crush Andy’s serve back. Call him Mandy. Tell him his backhand’s crap. Something. It’s the pros. It’s mano y mano. Gladiators. Heck, in other sports like the NFL, MLB and NBA players trash talk all the time, why not tennis? And it’s not like Roddick’s totally abusing existing rules as some players do by calling injury timeouts and using delay tricks.
That all said, even though I’m not a big Roddick fan per se, I actually support his bully campaign. As despicable as it may be, it’s good fun to watch and I really hope he doesn’t stop by winning matches without it. For my money Roddick’s great value. And yeah, his bullying shows what an arse he can be, but it also shows just how much the guy wants to win. And that’s why he plays. To win.
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