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Twenty years ago today, Andy Roddick hosted 'Saturday Night Live'
"Live from New York" had a dual meaning for the US Open champion in 2003.
Published Nov 08, 2023
Twenty years ago today, Andy Roddick did something that no male tennis player has ever done before or since. He didn’t strike a 170-mph serve. Nor did he whip a triple-digit mph forehand. Nor did he earn a victory in an epic match.
Roddick on this day hosted NBC’s longstanding comedy show, "Saturday Night Live."
For that fall of 2003, Roddick’s star was sizzling. On Sept. 7, just over a week after he’d turned 21, Roddick won the US Open men’s singles title. Ranked seventh in June, by Nov. 3, following a semifinal run at the ATP Masters 1000 Paris event, he’d soared to No. 1. Should good things happen for Roddick at the season-ending tournament that was then called the Tennis Masters Cup and set to start a week later, he had a strong chance of finishing the year at the pinnacle.
Amid the season of Roddick’s ascent, his management firm was contacted by the "SNL" team. The only prior tennis player to have hosted the show had been Chrissie Evert, back in 1989.
“It was a weird decision to be made,” says Roddick. “It was a little strange, to be asked to do this a week before the finals.”
Fortunately for all parties, the event that year took place in Houston, a reasonably short flight away from SNL’s New York City base.
“Luckily,” says Roddick, “the show’s producer, Lorne Michaels, let me have mornings and early afternoons free to practice. So I went to Flushing Meadows to hit for an hour or two. It was more of a maintenance week. The week was a bit of a whirlwind–tennis in the morning, then rehearse in the afternoon.”
Roddick’s favorite day was when he sat in the writer’s room. “On Tuesday, they’d bring in 10 sketches and they’d be read aloud,” he says. “Some of them were ridiculous. It was fun to see them build on ideas. That was where the creativity was mind-blowing.”
While Roddick had always been good at memorization, he was grateful that he wasn’t responsible for a line-by-line reading of Shakespeare. “You don’t have to hit it word for word,” he says.
In his opening monologue, Roddick said, “to tell you the truth, I don’t even have a sense of humor.” Though anyone who’s been around Roddick knows this is false, there later in the monologue came a comical interruption from audience member, lifelong New Yorker John McEnroe. “You’re not funny,” said a smiling and impassioned McEnroe. “I could do better than you. I was No. 1 for four years. You’ve been No. 1 for like, four days ... I’m out of here.”
As it turned out, though, McEnroe took part in several show segments, including one where he and cast member Chris Parnell evaluated Roddick’s performance as if they were discussing a tennis match.
"On Tuesday, they’d bring in 10 sketches and they’d be read aloud. Some of them were ridiculous. It was fun to see them build on ideas. That was where the creativity was mind-blowing.” Andy Roddick, on 'SNL' rehearsals
Naturally, the nine skits featuring Roddick drew on many tennis themes, with cast members taking on many roles. Among the notable: Fred Armisen dressed as Billie Jean King, taking on Roddick in a new version of the “Battle of the Sexes.” Kenan Thompson played the part of Richard Williams, attempting to adopt the accomplished Roddick. Will Forte and Seth Meyers joined Roddick on a travel through time with three versions of Andre Agassi–past, present, future. Jimmy Fallon was an obnoxious DJ who constantly interrupted Roddick’s effort to discuss a charity event.
“I’m certainly not going to try and steal a scene from Jimmy Fallon,” says Roddick.
In a pleasing coincidence, Roddick’s favorite band, the Dave Matthews Band, happened to be one of the show’s musical guests that week. “It was all pretty fun,” says Roddick.
Roddick was also aware that the pressure of performing in front of millions on television was quite different from his chosen profession. “You want to do well and not be a dummy,” says Roddick. “But there’s no real consequence if I stink at 'SNL.'”
More consequence surfaced in the middle of a New York night. “As soon as I finished, I went straight from the studio to Houston,” says Roddick. His flight landed there at 1:00 a.m. and soon enough, Roddick began to practice.
In this instance, the stakes were much higher. Two other men who’d won Slams in 2003, Roger Federer and Juan Carlos Ferrero, were also in contention for the No. 1 ranking. But as the round-robin event twisted and turned, Roddick clinched the top spot.
Should any other tennis player have the chance to host the show again, Roddick puts little stock in his experience.
“Because I did a show 20 years ago, that doesn’t mean that much,” he says. “I’d say if you have the chance to do it, do it. Just don’t overthink it.”