Straight to the Top

by: Bill Gray | August 27, 2010

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IMG_3958 Leonard Margolis needed a hitting partner who could prepare for him the New York City Parks Foundation’s 14-and-under tournament this weekend. So the eighth grader from Brooklyn went straight to the top. As the winner of Babolat’s “Put Yourself in Roddick’s Shoes” sweepstakes, he won a 30-minute hitting session, including a 12-point tiebreaker, with Andy Roddick.

The odds of a shot at going toe-to-toe with Roddick were 1 in 1,882, the number of contest entries from all over the country. Some probably entered for the chance to fly across the country and meet a former Saturday Night Live host and husband of a supermodel. But it was a match made in tennis heaven for this 13-year-old. Margolis is a member of the USTA’s elite training program and is serious about tennis. Also, he lives just a half hour from the CityView Racquet Club, where the match took place.

Still, you would expect Margolis to be a little nervous, if not completely freaked out by the moment. But he confidently strode onto the court before a barrage of cellphone cameras and a Tennis Channel TV crew, with a brand new Pure Drive racquet in his steady hand.

It left his mom, Gelena, almost lost for words. “I can’t believe he looks so…confident,” she said, a little nervous herself, as her son answered Roddick’s topspins with his own, stroke for stroke in a succession of rallies that lasted for 20 to 30 shots.

Margolis began the tiebreaker by double faulting, showing maybe a little crack in his stoic demeanor. “I’m not used to the racquet. I play with the [Wilson] K-Blade,” he said later, before adding diplomatically, “but this is a great racquet, too.”

The match started on a series of long rallies, corner to corner and side to side, with Roddick masterfully disguising his half-speed play. At one point, Roddick let loose a genuine blasting service winner that Margolis at least managed to get his racquet on, popping the ball in the air and out. 

It went down to the wire. At 6-5 on match point for Roddick, he formed a chain from his left hand by holding hands with two boys from the audience, pulling them along as he hobbled to get to the ball. Margolis seized the opportunity with a pair of clean cross-court winners into the open court. On match point for Margolis, Roddick dumped the ball into the net.

Margolis said afterward that he wouldn’t be bragging to his friends about how he beat Roddick. “He wasn’t playing his best,” said Margolis, who said he had expected to lose 1-7.

So what were his impressions of the American No. 1? “He’s great,” Margolis said. He still wasn’t star struck, however, adding that he’d like to be “like him, and maybe even better.”

Meanwhile, his opponent assessed the match. “It was good tennis,” said Roddick, who regularly hits with kids at special events, often to raise money for his foundation. “You never know what you’re getting into when you do one of these—it’s a mixed bag—but he was able to play and it was fun.”

Did Margolis tax him? “I think I’ll be able to get through next week,” he laughed.

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