zachbissett

Andy Roddick, the most literary character in sports

In fiction, sports, TV, writing on 08/30/2012 at 23:08

No “continue reading” here. I want this to be seen in full, whoever stumbles across this.

Moments ago Andy Roddick announced this year’s US Open would be his final tournament.

As a writer and an avid tennis/basketball fan, I find the circles I travel in to be quite varied. My athletic friends don’t often read great literature, and my literary friends usually don’t understand the appeal of sports, marginalizing whatever contest to the basics: bats, balls, helmets, etc.

It’s unfortunate, because the literary world and the world of sports intersect on a regular basis.

AR

Look no further than Andy Roddick, the epitome of the everyman American trying to survive in a market that got more global every day.

Roddick grew up watching the greatest generation of American tennis; Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang—men who accounted for 27 grand slam titles, hundreds of weeks at number one and several Davis Cup titles.

As he grew up, Roddick became a man who was no longer admiring the accomplishments of his forefathers, but who struggled mightily under the public eye as he tried to emulate their achievements. Make no mistake, Andy never flinched in the spotlight, never begrudged his unfavorable position of bearing the burden of American tennis, nor that he was born into a generation featuring the two greatest players the sport has ever seen: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

AR

In 2003, when—in the grand scheme of things—Roddick was still a child (21 years), Roddick won the US Open to the delight of a home crowd. The future looked bright, like it does to all 21 year olds. From then on out, though, tangible achievements were hard to come by.

With Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal combining to win all but two major tournaments from 2004 Wimbledon through the 2011 Australian Open, Roddick never won another major. He did, however, reach four additional finals, including the 2006 US Open. He was stopped by Roger Federer every time.

Roddick’s successes came in subtler, less advertised forms. While not only being the top ranked American for the better part of a dozen grueling seasons, Roddick spent most of that time inside the top 10. As he said in his press conference, of all the players who hit the tour around the same time as he did, only Federer is still playing well. Indeed, Roddick outlasted all of his contemporaries in terms of consistency.

Roddick, like a true literary hero, lost the big moments—but took away smaller treasures; in 2007 his stalwart position as Davis Cup captain paid off with a victory over Spain, and a childhood dream was realized.

Over the years Roddick’s 32 titles (third amongst active players), 610 wins (second amongst active players) and 2003 year end ranking of #1 have been glossed over as the American media berated Roddick into shaping his game into what they believed would win him another major. Roddick ignored the criticism and continued developing his game in the way he saw fit, manifesting most notably in a semi-surprise run to the 2009 Wimbledon final, where he infamously lost 16-14 in the fifth set to Federer, one of the greatest matches ever played.

AR

The most literary qualities Roddick possess are also the most admirable. While he could be volatile and downright bratty during matches, Roddick has never ducked out of the chance to do good in the world, playing countless charity events and starting his own foundation, which he plans to focus on after his tennis career wraps up. Roddick was also undoubtedly the hardest worker of his generation. While Nadal is often lauded for his tenacity, it is easy to be fearless when you are the best player in the world. Roddick held that title only very briefly, and was able to give a thousand percent even after the most brutal losses or stretches of lackluster results.

In short (hah!) Roddick’s career would translate into a book we would describe as “the next great American novel.” Perhaps I am the writer for the job, but I fear I’d not do justice to the tall, accomplished and venerable figure Roddick cuts. And that’s my whole point: Roddick’s literary story was told day in and day out since he was a young boy hitting tennis balls off his garage, dreaming of winning the big matches on the biggest stages. It was not written in the sense fiction writers/readers are used to, but it was a great read nonetheless.

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