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