DELRAY BEACH, Fla.—Jacob Goldman spent $5,000 and traveled 4,529 miles to fly from his home in Paris just to have a hit with Andy Roddick. Then, with Roddick as his partner for the Delray Beach Open Champions Tour pro-am, Goldman panicked.
“I’m just so nervous,” said the 60-year-old internet consultant, who claimed to be a 4.5 daily player, as he hit his fifth consecutive serve into the net. “I mean, I never miss my serve. But this was Andy Roddick.”
Even a year and a half after retiring from the sport, Roddick can have an intimidating effect on partners, as well as opponents. In the players’ lounge after the 31-year-old went 3-0 in an ATP Champions Tour event, defeating Mats Wilander, Mikael Pernfors, and Goran Ivanisevic (all in straight sets), 35-year-old tour veteran Michael Russell only half-joked as he implored Roddick to play doubles with him at this year’s U.S. Open.
“What, you want to guarantee you only get first-round prize money?” Roddick guffawed. Clearly, he no longer sees himself as any great threat, even if his serve can still top out at well over 120 M.P.H. with virtually no practice at all.
Roddick began his pro career in Delray Beach in 2000, fresh off a win at the Australian Open juniors, on a wild card given to him by tournament director Mark Baron. At the time, Roddick was a 17-year-old high school senior just down the road in Boca Raton, not the mega-millionaire, former world No. 1, U.S. Open champion, three-time Wimbledon/one-time U.S. Open runner-up (to Roger Federer every time), current radio talk-show host, and all-around bon-vivant that he is today.
“Probably the only thing I miss [about playing professionally] and the feeling you can’t replicate is the first five seconds after you’ve accomplished something that you’ve been working towards,” says Roddick, who won 32 tour titles, 612 matches, and more than $20 million in prize money over a 12-year career. “That moment of execution, I’ll never have that again. You can work in TV all you want but it’s not that do-or-die moment. The show’s gonna go on even if you mess up. It’s delivering in that big moment that I miss most.”
Roddick clearly doesn’t miss the grind of practice and, in fact, rarely touches a racket these days. His four consecutive days of playing in Delray Beach, as well as one-night stands for Jim Courier’s PowerShares Series circuit in Birmingham and Denver, are about the only tennis he has played since his last match against Juan Martin del Potro, just days after his 30th birthday, in the round of 16 at the 2012 U.S. Open.
Instead, Roddick spends his days—and nights—working as a co-host of Fox Sports Live on Fox Sports 1, where his favorite guest to date, he says, was former basketball coach Phil Jackson, who won a record-breaking 11 NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers.
“He’s the only guy who got a standing ovation from our crew afterwards,” says Roddick, who eschewed a career in tennis commentary because he wanted to go outside his comfort zone. He calls his foray into sports talk as jumping into the deep end rather than the kiddie pool. “When [Jackson] was talking everyone was silent, listening because he was so incredibly honest, insightful and he didn’t run away from any questions. His has the credibility where he’s not worried about what’s next for him. He has it all.”
Roddick is still an avid tennis follower and was impressed with Stanislas Wawrinka’s performance in winning the Australian Open over his Rafael Nadal in the final. But he’s not sure how the new world No. 3—and Swiss No. 1—will do in the two all-important upcoming tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami.
“It will be interesting to see how ‘Rinka does with the expectation now,” says Roddick. “It’s one thing when it’s all upside but another thing to win matches you’re supposed to win.”
In Indian Wells, Roddick sees little competition for three-time winner and defending champion Nadal. “He’s a nightmare in Indian Wells because it’s a slow court,” he says. “I played him twice there and I just felt like I was hanging on because he can back way up and create space with that. That could be his best hard court surface because they ball flies.
“As for Miami,” Roddick continues, “it’s tough because a lot of times form dictates who does well there. Those two tournaments are spaced out to where you can do well in both. And they’re not physically demanding because you get a day off between matches and they’re not three-out-of-five-setters. In 2010, I got to the final in Indian Wells and then won Miami. So I really think that whoever does well in Indian Wells will likely hold form in Miami.”
Roddick also says that he is delighted that the ATP is finally adding an additional week of preparation between the French Open and Wimbledon next year, giving more credibility to the grass-court season. “Yeah, they’re doing all this cool [stuff] after I’m done,” he jokes.
He is, however, understandably concerned about the level of U.S. men on the ATP tour. At present, only one American, John Isner (at No. 13) is ranked in the world’s Top 50 while No. 57 Sam Querrey lost in the first round in Delray. The third-ranked American, No. 66 Bradley Klahn, a former NCAA champion at Stanford, has won just three tour-level matches in his career but has had great success on the Challenger circuit. A pair of 21-year-olds, Jack Sock and Ryan Harrison, at one pointed touted as the next great American heroes, sit at 82 and No. 115 in the world, respectively. Sock lost in the first round in Delray to Frenchman Adrian Mannarino despite having won their three previous career meetings. Harrison reached the second round when his opponent, Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei, retired with a shoulder injury.
“There’s an upside [to both Sock and Harrison] but there needs to be a sense of urgency,” says Roddick who, at times, has mentored both players. “There are different kinds of pressures that create motivation, maybe even putting food on the table. I hope they realize the opportunities they have because it’s funny, you think you’re going to play forever and then you wake up on your 30th birthday and you’re done.”
Roddick has made sure since his retirement to find time for some of his own off-court passions. He has played a golf pro-am at Pebble Beach the last two years, and he has become more intrinsically involved in his foundation in his hometown of Austin, Texas, which he started during his playing career but had little time to focus on. He is currently leading the fundraising drive for an 11,000-square-foot Sports & Learning Center in an economically disadvantaged area of East Austin that will house after-school programs for kids, including tennis and basketball courts as well as indoor and outdoor learning spaces. It is expected to be completed by 2015.
As a spokesman for Athlete Ally, a non-profit organization aimed at ending homophobia in sports, Roddick has been captivated by the story of Michael Sam, the All-American defensive back from the University of Missouri who recently announced he is gay, ahead of the NFL draft. “I thought [former NBA player] Jason Collins was a pioneer and certainly brave [when he came out],” says Roddick. “But I think this might be more important because it’s not at the tail end of a career. This guy is a legitimate draft prospect who chose not to protect himself going into the draft. I think it’s amazing that he said, ‘This is who I am, this is who you are drafting, this is what I want to be.’ And that’s what I love about sports. If you can play and do your job, there’s going to be a space for you no matter what you do in your personal life.”
As much as Roddick cherishes the choice he made to pursue a professional tennis career, he’s not sure it would be his sport of choice for a child of his. “It’s tough to tell a kid ‘no’ if that’s what he wants,” says Roddick, but it would be a little difficult with the name.”
And if he were to choose another sport for any future child he and Brooklyn Decker, his wife of nearly five years, might have? “One that guarantees contracts,” he says, only half-joking. “We laugh, but that’s no small part of it. Roster spaces are important. There are 70 guys on an NFL team times 30 teams. Baseball rosters are 28 players deep. That’s a lot of opportunity for a lot of athletes.
“And just the way tennis is regarded,” added Roddick, who played high school basketball alongside fellow tennis pro Mardy Fish. “If you’re a baseball All-Star there’s a little more cache to it. Everybody knows who the top 80 baseball players in the world are. But if you’re the guy who is 80 in the world in tennis you get trashed on TV. There’s really limited upside unless you’re one of the greats of all time in tennis. After a while, people even get sick of who’s in the Top 10; they say, ‘What’s next?’
“The percentages just aren’t there when you’re pulling from a worldwide talent pool as opposed to sports where it’s predominantly one, two or three countries,” Roddick says with a wry smile. “Tennis really is a tough sell right now.
“I guess, in the end,” he says, shaking his head in disbelief, “I really was pretty lucky.”