The third act of Andy Roddick

Note: Thanks for the intro, Jeff, and oh yeah, thanks for posting my 1988 bar mitzvah photo, too (I know what you’re thinking: It’s astonishing that I didn’t have a girlfriend back then, looking as I did. Believe me, it puzzled me for years, too).

Anyway, I’ll try to fill Jeff’s rather large shoes (I mean that literally; guy has huge feet) with at least one post a day. Today, since I’m still enthralled by yesterday’s Andy Roddick-Roger Federer Wimbledon final, I want to talk about Roddick. Not about the match; I did way too much of that here.  Just more about Roddick in general.

— Michael LewisBRITAIN TENNIS WIMBLEDON

If all athletes have multiple stages in their career, I think we’re about to see the beginning of Andy Roddick’s third act.

There was his first act, when the brash Florida kid with the enormous serve and equally enormous forehand burst onto the tennis scene in 2001, and for a few years he looked like he’d become the next in the great line of American tennis players.

Roddick was coming along at the perfect time; the great generation of Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang were all either retiring or close to the finish line (who knew Agassi, who flamed out so many times, would outlast them all?). Roddick would be the Next One, the guy who’d win Slams and sell soda and grace the cover of magazines.

And for a while, the big kid lived up to the hype. He won the 2003 U.S. Open, and made the Wimbledon finals for two straight years in ’04 and ’05.

Then, well, he kind of plateaued. He was still good, but he wasn’t getting any better. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic passed him by like he was standing still, and since no other American player was doing much (don’t give me James Blake: guy has never even been past the quarterfinals at a major), Roddick took some heat.

“He’s not in shape.”  “He’s a one-trick pony.” “He can’t play smart.” All of that was said, and all of it was right. It looked for a few years, until 2009, really, that Roddick was just settling in to being a Top 10 player, getting to the quarters at most majors, then losing to a better player.

And hey, nothing wrong with it. It’s a good living, you get to shtup an SI Swimsuit model, get paid to hit a fuzzy yellow ball, all that’s good stuff.

But yesterday, I think Roddick’s third phase really began. He actually believed he was going to beat Federer, and for most of the match, I did, too. He’s in fantastic shape now, he’s finally listening to his coaches (as Brad Gilbert and Jimmy Connors shake their heads wearily). Roddick has transformed his game, and his attitude, into one that could hang with any of the top players.

Will he keep it up, or were the last two weeks an aberration? I think he’ll keep it up.  Is he going to be beating Nadal and Federer regularly? Probably not.

But for some guys, the light just goes on at some point, and they’re done settling for “pretty good”-ness. Looks like he’s ready to try for greatness again.

Just in time for the U.S. Open. Can’t wait.

–M.L.

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