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

WIMBLEDON, England — Until Sunday, Novak Djokovic never managed to win a grass-court tournament of any sort, let alone Wimbledon.

Until Sunday, Djokovic never was able to beat Rafael Nadal in a Grand Slam match, let alone a final.
Until this marvelous — and nearly perfect — year, Djokovic was very good. Now he’s great.

After outrunning, outswinging and, for stretches, dominating defending champion Nadal, winning 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 for his first title at the All England Club and third major championship overall, Djokovic crouched on Center Court, reached down, plucked some blades of grass and shoved them in his mouth.

“I felt like an animal. I wanted to see how it tastes. It tastes good,” Djokovic said later, his eyes wide and his smile contagious. “It came spontaneously, really. I didn’t plan to do it. I didn’t know what to do for my excitement and joy.”
Putting together one of the best seasons by any athlete in any sport in recent memory, Djokovic is 48-1 with eight titles in 2011, including major trophies from the Australian Open and Wimbledon. On Monday, he will rise from No. 2 to No. 1 in the ATP rankings, overtaking Nadal, a switch that was guaranteed by virtue of Djokovic’s victory in the semifinals Friday.

“I want to win more Grand Slams,” said Djokovic, the first man since Andre Agassi in 1992 to win his first grass title at Wimbledon. “I will definitely not stop here, even though I have achieved [the] two biggest things in my life in three days.”

Which, perhaps, is why he engaged in such a lengthy and original celebration, even tossing several rackets into the stands, the sort of crowd-pleasing gesture for which Djokovic long has been known.

Indeed, early in his career, Djokovic stood out less for his shot-making than for his showmanship — check out his spot-on impersonations of other pros, including Nadal, on YouTube — and a hard-to-explain propensity for losing, or even quitting, during late-round matches at majors.
Right now, though, the 24-year-old from Serbia is the total package, with the bona fides to prove it.

He credits a handful of factors with helping him truly excel recently: more maturity; confidence from helping Serbia win its first Davis Cup title in December; and a gluten-free diet he doesn’t like to discuss in any detail.

Djokovic’s only loss all season came against 16-time major champion Roger Federer in the French Open semifinals a month ago, Djokovic’s seventh exit from a Grand Slam tournament in the final four.

For so many years, Federer and Nadal ruled tennis. One or the other was No. 1 every week since February 2004. One or the other won 22 of the last 26 Grand Slam tournaments, including Nadal’s 10 titles.

But now Djokovic owns three of the other four trophies in that span — 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro has the other — and finally elbowed his way past that pair in the rankings.

“We all know the careers of Nadal and Federer. ... They have been the two most dominant players in the world the last five years. They have won most of the majors,” Djokovic said. “So sometimes it did feel a little bit frustrating when you kind of get to the later stages of a Grand Slam — meaning last four, last eight — and then you have to meet them. They always come up with their best tennis when it matters the most. ... I always believed that I have [enough} quality to beat those two guys.”