Andy Roddick

Andy Roddick of the Austin Aces.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

The Austin Aces’ inaugural season hasn’t exactly been a smash hit, but it has provided a new experience for many fans.

The Cedar Park Center, the Aces home arena, is filled with music, cheering and excitement during the nearly four-hour events. While the team may not sell out its games, Austin coach Rick Leach claims that it has the best fans in the Mylan World TeamTennis league.

“I’ve been so impressed with [the fans’] enthusiasm,” Leach said. “I’ve been seeing the same kids at the autograph line — great response and great crowds.”

Led by Austin resident and former Grand Slam champion Andy Roddick, the Aces have spent the past month participating in the league’s regular season against six other teams.

Unlike conventional tennis, Mylan league matches consist of five different sets — one set of men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles. Each game won gives a team a point, and the first team to win five games wins each set.

The unique scoring system gives every team an opportunity to contend for a championship. The league’s scoring keeps matches from becoming exhibitions by ensuring competitiveness throughout the match.

“No team is ever out of it in World TeamTennis,” said league co-founder Billie Jean King at a luncheon in Austin on June 10. “The overtime and super tiebreaker always set up an exciting finish.”

The structure of the league is what makes coaching the Aces so enjoyable for Leach.

“I like TeamTennis because you have men and women playing together,” he said. “I just think it’s fun and exciting and fast-paced. I think they can root for the home team as much as they want.”

The league’s atmosphere is one of the many reasons Roddick and team owner Lorne Abony created the Aces organization.

“It’s kind of fun and funky,” Roddick said about the league. “Most people tell you to be quiet at matches; we tell you to be louder.”

While the atmosphere at games has been exciting, the Aces haven’t had the best season as they’ve gone through growing pains throughout their first year. The Aces are currently in last place in the Western Conference with a 4-7 record. Their struggles continued Saturday as they saw their playoff hopes get even smaller after a tough loss to the San Diego Aviators. Although Austin will likely miss the playoffs, Leach believes that the team will improve over time.

“I think we’ll keep getting better,” Leach said. “We lost some close matches. Unfortunately, some players came in with some injuries and Treat [Huey] got hurt when he got here. With only four players, it’s pretty tough on you.”

The Aces will finish the season on the road against the Texas Wild, Philadelphia Freedoms and San Diego Aviators this week.

Spain’s team celebrates by tossing David Ferrer, who defeated Mardy Fish of the United States, 7-5, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 7-6 (5) during a Davis Cup tennis quarterfinal match Sunday. Spain won 3-1.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

David Ferrer lost just one set all weekend. America had no chance.

The Spaniard embarrassed Austinite Andy Roddick on Friday in straight sets, then eliminated Mardy Fish and Team USA on Sunday, winning 7-5, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 7-6 (5) to give Spain a final 3-1 win over the U.S. in the Davis Cup quarterfinals.

Ferrer, the No. 6 player in the world, flummoxed Fish time and time again. He was a human backboard, sitting on the far end of the court and returning everything hit his way.

“He’s very good from the baseline,” Fish said after the match. “He’s one of the best movers in the world. That’s how he makes his living.”

It looked as if Ferrer would make it a short afternoon for the announced 16,000 in attendance at the Frank Erwin Center, making quick work of Fish in the first two sets. But the American battled back to win the third set 7-5 and put some pressure on Ferrer.

“There was a lot of tension in the match,” Ferrer said.

Fish had his chances. He led 5-3 in the first set before committing 20 unforced errors — his backhand shot seemed magnetically drawn to the net — and allowing Ferrer to break his serve twice. He lost the second set on a tiebreaker, 7-3. The fourth could have gone Fish’s way too, but Ferrer outlasted him on another tiebreaker.

“He just kind of came up with one or two better shots than I did,” Fish said.

Considering how successful Ferrer has been in his career slapping shots back and forth from the baseline, Fish and U.S. Captain Jim Courier decided to turn to a more aggressive approach in the final sets, which yielded better results.

“We wanted to put a lot of pressure on him [at the net],” Fish said. “I wanted to utilize my volleys a little bit, try to strike through the court low and hard.”

The change managed to frustrate Ferrer a bit — he was issued a warning after crushing a ball into the mezzanine — but it wasn’t enough.

“There’s a reason he’s No. 6 in the world,” Fish said.

That’s a startling fact for the other national powers in men’s tennis, because Ferrer isn’t even the best singles player in Spain. That honor belongs to the world’s No. 2, Rafael Nadal, who was a late Davis Cup scratch.

“Spain is probably the deepest nation out there in men’s tennis. That’s a great advantage to have, no doubt about it,” Courier said.

The Americans had advantages as well. Fish and Roddick, the No. 8 and No. 10 players in the world, respectively, are no scrubs. And the pro-USA crowd at the Erwin Center was louder than it is for most basketball games.

“The crowd was incredible,” Fish said. “It’s the loudest Davis Cup I’ve ever been a part of.”
Had Fish beaten Ferrer, Roddick would have played Feliciano Lopez (who beat Fish in Friday’s first match) in the decisive rubber match.

“I badly wanted to get to the point where we could get Andy out there playing for the fifth match,” Fish said. “That’s the hardest part for me, knowing how much he wanted the Davis Cup to be here in Austin. It would have been a great ending for the tie here, him playing in front of his home fans.”

It didn’t happen. David Ferrer was just too good.

Printed on 07/11/2011 as: Davis Cup Defeat

Andy Roddick practices Wednesday at the Frank Erwin Center. Roddick will play Spain’s David Ferrer on Friday.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Mardy Fish will be the No. 1 singles player for the U.S. in this weekend’s Davis Cup, team captain Jim Courier announced during Friday’s draw.

Fish, the No. 8 player in the world, will face off against Spain’s Feliciano Lopez in Friday’s ‘A’ match.

“Mardy coming out of the blocks is good for us,” Courier said. “We’ll look forward to that.”

Austinite Andy Roddick will be the country’s No. 2 player. Some felt that Roddick could be given the top-seed because he serves as the ambassador between the host city of Austin and the Davis Cup, but Courier said that never influenced his decision.

“Andy obviously will be backing him up,” he said. “There’s no real drama for us. Sorry not to give you a headline, but it kind of is what it is.”

The Fish-Lopez match will be important for both countries, as that first point (in first-to-three format) can be vital.

“It obviously sets the tone,” Fish said. “We’ve got a pretty good guy [Roddick] coming behind me, as well. So, you know, I won’t feel any extra pressure. We’re looking to get to three, and that’s the goal.”

Roddick will take on David Ferrer, the world’s No. 6 player. On the season, the Spaniard has a 34-10 record and holds the head-to-head advantage over Roddick, 4-3.

Ferrer’s greatest asset is his elite return game — the Spanish Andre Agassi — and that should help him against Roddick’s killer serve.

But A-Rod will have home-court advantage — one that goes much farther than just partial fans. The indoor court in the Frank Erwin Center plays incredibly quick, an advantage that has been met with disapproval by the Spaniards.

“The mandate is not for us to find a court that suits everyone, it’s to find a court that suits ourselves within the rules, which is what we’ve done,” Courier said. “So we’re very happy with the court.”

The singles matches will flip on Sunday, with Roddick playing Lopez — a rematch of the third round of this year’s Wimbledon, which resulted in a win for Lopez. Fish will battle Ferrer.

The USA doubles twins, Bob and Mike Bryan, who are a week removed from victory on the Wimbledon grass, face off against Lopez and Fernando Verdasco on Saturday.

“It’s indoors. It’s a hard court. It’s different balls,” Bob Bryan said. “But we still have a smile on our face from the Wimbledon title.”

According to the Austin Sports Commission, the Davis Cup is expected to bring in $5 million in revenue to the city. The three day tournament between US and Spain is already sold out despite Rafael Nadal’s absence.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

The hum of the air conditioner buzzed over the sound of tennis balls thwacking against the floor of the Frank Erwin Center. Wednesday afternoon, top tennis players from Spain and the U.S. practiced in the nearly empty arena, which will host 16,200 people each day this weekend for the Davis Cup.

The Davis Cup is an international pro-tennis team competition. The sold out event is July 8 to July 10. The Davis Cup Draw Ceremony will feature local band Asleep at the Wheel and the two teams at the Moody Theater at 12 p.m. today.

This will be the first time USA player Andy Roddick competes in a professional event in Austin, his current home. The No. 10 world ranked tennis player vied for the Davis Cup to be brought to Austin.

The United States Tennis Association is putting on the event. Jeff Ryan, senior director of team events for the association, looked into Austin serving as the home for the tournament. It takes eight days to set up the court, conduct the practices and competitions and strike the court from the center, Ryan said.

“Andy Roddick has been telling us Austin would be a great city,” Ryan said. “For the first time in a while the Frank Erwin Center was available.”

Spain’s Rafael Nadal was the world’s No. 1 ranked tennis player until an upset at Wimbledon last week. He was expected to play in this weekend’s tournament, but he recently changed his mind because of a foot injury.

“People in this sport know that it’s a country against country competition — not individual against individual,” Ryan said. “There would have been far bigger disappointment levels if Andy couldn’t have played.”

The event is expected to bring in $5 million in revenue to the city, according to the Austin Sports Commission at the Austin Convention Center and Visitor’s Bureau.

The court is an acrylic hard court made in a warehouse and then assembled in square sections on the floor of the center, which normally hosts the UT basketball teams and events such as concerts. The Spanish team is used to clay courts which are categorized as a different speed than acrylic courts. The team protested the speed of the floor, but officials denied the claim after investigation.

Tito Moreinas, a tennis player and junior at Winston Churchill High School in San Antonio, is one of four ball boys chosen for the tournament.

“I play a lot of tennis, so I’ve always wanted to see matches close up, and I think that’s the closest you can get being a ball boy,” Moreiras said.

Printed on 07/07/2011 as: Frank Erwin Center to host Davis Cup

Andy Roddick returns a hit during Davis Cup practice Wednesday at the Frank Erwin Center. Roddick is ranked No. 12 in the world.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Andy Roddick pulled up from a sharp forehand during an open practice Wednesday afternoon, a shot that failed to clear the net, and turned to the group of a hundred-something spectators who had come to watch their favorite player at the Frank Erwin Center.

“Hey guys, could you turn the flash off your cameras?” he asked politely. “It makes it hard to see.”

Roddick, who grew up in Austin, would be wise to get used to the bright lights of this weekend’s Davis Cup World Group Quarterfinals against Spain because, as far as American tennis fans are concerned, he represents the country’s best shot at drawing some national pride to a country that hasn’t been the same since Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras hung it up.

He is no longer the top ranked player in the United States — that honor belongs to Mardy Fish, who is also participating in this weekend’s Davis Cup — but his 155-mph serve, his Lacoste flair and his swimsuit model wife Brooklyn Decker make him the most recognizable. Roddick’s practice Wednesday was half a showcase of his talent, half a showcase of flamboyance. After steaming an ace right past sparring mate Steve Johnson, Roddick let out a one-liner that would make Mack Brown proud.

“It’s cause you’re a USC fan,” he said to the crimson and gold-clad Johnson.

It was clearly a pro-Roddick crowd, one that oohed, aahed and took pictures — no flash — as he kept the highlight plays coming — a serve so fast it broke the backstop, midair forehands, a twirling, no-look forehand with his back to the net. He also provided the moment of the day, “planking” (the practice of lying face down in an unusual or incongruous location) in the middle of the court during a live volley.

“It’s just nice to see excitement for tennis in this area of the world,” he said.

Roddick, 28, won the 2003 US Open, making him the last North American male to win a Grand Slam event. He has faltered in recent Grand Slams, losing in the semifinals at both Wimbledon and the Australian Open in 2009. Former coach Jimmy Connors, an American tennis hero in his own right, said a few weeks ago that Roddick has lost a step.

“I think for him to win one, he’d have to come up with something very, very special now,” Connors said in a mid-June conference call. “The other guys have kind of gotten onto him a bit.”

Feliciano Lopez — who is representing Spain in the Davis Cup — took down Roddick in Wimbledon in three sets two weeks ago, and Roddick says the upcoming Davis Cup helped him heal emotionally.

“I felt like I was playing well going into Wimbledon. [I] played decent, ran into a guy who was serving really well and was a hot player. It’s actually probably healthy for me that I had this around the corner,” he said. “It was something that I could instantly focus on after the fact.”

Some of the oomph was taken out of the Davis Cup when Rafael Nadal withdrew from the tournament due to a foot injury suffered during Wimbledon, a loss that is sure to disappoint fans eager to see the showy Spaniard.

“We don’t control who Spain brings; we just have to control their efforts,” said U.S. Davis Cup captain Jim Courier. “I think the fans will probably have more mixed emotions than we will.”

Excitement at the Davis Cup should still be in full supply though. As everyone in attendance Wednesday saw, this Roddick is pretty flashy himself.

Printed on 07/07/2011 as:  Tennis pro returns, expects to help USA advance past Spain

In a city devoid of any major professional sports teams, individuals often take on larger-than-life roles as Austin residents latch onto hometown heroes.

Relatively few international sporting events are held in town, resulting in frustration for fans that want to watch their idols up close.

That changes this summer. Local tennis star Andy Roddick will face the world’s best player, Rafael Nadal, in July here in Austin.

The only remaining question is exactly when.

The U.S. will host Spain in the second round of the Davis Cup July 8-10 in Austin, the United States Tennis Association announced Wednesday. It is the first Davis Cup tie, as the competition is known, in the city’s history.

The individual matchups will not be announced until 10 days before the tie, but Roddick is expected to face Nadal in a singles draw, possibly in a victory-clinching match on July 10.

“It will be a dream come true, and I’m excited for the tennis community of Austin,” Roddick said by telephone from Miami.

The Davis Cup is the sport’s oldest international team competition, dating back to 1899.

The U.S. is the tournament’s best all-time performer, with a record 32 titles and an overall record of 210-64. Spain has won four titles, all since 2000 and most recently in 2009.

Roddick, a Davis Cup regular, is second in U.S. history with 33 victories in the event. He secured the Americans’ first-round victory over Chile with a win on March 7.

Nadal has pledged to play for Spain in the second round and, as the top performer on the world’s top-ranked team, would most likely face Roddick.

“There has been a little bit of a history of some gamesmanship between us and Spain,” said Jack Ryan, senior professional director for USTA. “They might withhold some information until the very last minute.”

Roddick was a large part of the bid process. The USTA also considered San Antonio and Albany, N.Y., as possible sites to host the contest.

“Over the years ... he was very active in getting our attention and talking to us about coming to Austin,” Ryan said about Roddick.

The tie will take place at the Erwin Center. Tickets start at $90 and go on sale April 8 for the general public.

“I think it’s going to be one of those crowds that’s going to get riled up pretty quickly,” Ryan said. 

The United States Tennis Association is expected to announce that Austin has been selected to host a second-round Davis Cup match in a press conference scheduled for today in the Frank Erwin Center.

The Davis Cup, an international team tennis tournament, is a single-knockout competition that boasts some of the world’s best male players.

The United States plays Spain on June 8-10. The other finalists to host the event were San Antonio and Albany, N.Y.

U.S. player Andy Roddick lives in Austin and has said in the past he’d like the city to host a Davis Cup tie, as the contests are known. Roddick sealed the Americans’ first-round victory with a singles win over Chile’s Paul Capdeville earlier this month and will headline the team’s lineup in the second round.

He will face some stiff competition — Rafael Nadal, the world’s No. 1 player, has committed to play for Spain in the second round.

There hasn’t been a Davis Cup tie in the U.S. in more than two-and-a-half years.

The Erwin Center would also host the event this summer in a series of five matches — four singles, one doubles — during the three-day period.

The host nation gets to decide what surface the tie will be played on. Roddick and most of the Americans prefer hard courts, although Nadal has found success on almost every major tennis surface. The American is second all-time on his country’s list of Davis Cup appearances at 44. Overall, the U.S. is the winningest side in Davis Cup history with 32 titles. Spain, currently ranked as the world’s best team, has four titles.

Jeff Ryan, the association’s senior director of professional operations, will be on hand to make the announcement along with Gov. Rick Perry.