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Quarterlife crisis

Roddick at a crucial age for the professional athlete

Posted: Wednesday August 31, 2005 12:23PM; Updated: Wednesday August 31, 2005 2:44PM
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Andy Roddick
Nothing seemed to go right for Andy Roddick in his Tuesday-night loss to Gilles Muller.
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NEW YORK -- For a man who just turned 23, his is a charmed life. The trips to London, the fortnights in Paris, the glossy good looks, the gushing groupies -- it's all so commonplace to Andy Roddick. But to his younger fans, it's what makes him such an ideal role model -- that he has achieved so much at an age when many of us have accomplished so comparatively little only makes us envy him more.

But talk to anyone who follows tennis without a rooting interest, and they'll tell you the cocksure Yankee with the booming serve is mired in some sort of quarter-life crisis -- a dilemma so dire that even one of his sponsors, American Express, would call a national search party to help track down his missing "mojo." After Roddick's dramatic first-round fall to lion-tamer Gilles Muller of Luxembourg, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8), 7-6 (1), there seems to be just cause for concern.

"This totally blindsided me," Roddick, seeded fourth, said after the loss. "I felt like I was going to have a good run here."

Nowhere is the career track seemingly more unrealistically accelerated than in sports, the overachievers often setting an unfair example for their counterparts to follow. Magic Johnson was minted an NBA champion and a Finals MVP on his first try at the tender age of 20. Derek Jeter was hard at work on his third World Series with the Yankees by the time he was 24.

Roddick's career crisis couldn't have come at a worse time. For the tennis pro, the quarter-life is the time to make hay, the window of opportunity typically kept ajar from the ages of 20 to 25 (Andre Agassi's timeless run notwithstanding). Pete Sampras had six Grand Slam titles by the time he was 24, while John McEnroe -- with almost seven in tote at the same age -- was approaching burnout.

Roddick seemed destined to follow in their paths. He was just 21 when he defeated Juan Carlos Ferrero in straight sets to win the 2003 U.S. Open, in the process emerging as the fresh face of American tennis, heir to Agassi and son of Sampras. That hype was somewhat justified. Roddick hasn't fallen out of the top five since bagging his first and only major, while his career win total has climbed to 19.

It's his record in majors that often is called into question. It isn't that Roddick couldn't win the big one if given the right opportunity (his big serve alone has gotten him into the past two Wimbledon finals), he just usually ends up getting trounced by the same opponent: Roger Federer. Head-to-head, Roddick is a feeble 1-10 against the Maestro, his most recent humbling coming in straight sets earlier this month at the ATP Masters Series in Cincinnati. And this is after Federer, a model wunderkind himself at age 24, was coming off a six-week vacation.