In bad taste
Roddick's antics border on boorish -- is this a phase?
Posted: Wednesday February 27, 2008 10:22AM; Updated: Wednesday February 27, 2008 10:22AM
Bad news for Andy Roddick if he has to resort to blatant intimidation to win a match over an 18-year-old newcomer. Admitting that you're purposely trying to use gamesmanship is completely bush league. I'd expect that from the USTA league players on the weekend, but not a top pro.
I'll start by saying that more than a few of you were ripping James Blake last week for being too soft against Kei Nishikori and failing to flex his muscle against this teenage arriviste. When Roddick bullies the kid, he gets roasted for gamesmanship.
Also, I'm not sure this episode rises to the level of "felony trash talk." As I understood it, Roddick was telling Nishikori to be merciless, essentially saying, "If you're going to drive the lane, go for the dunk and not some cutesy finger roll." The message got lost in translation, but the intent didn't seem malicious. (Here's a write-up of his "monologue.")
Nevertheless, triggered by this latest episode, a lot of you wrote in criticizing Roddick's attitude of late. And I think that the larger point is a fair one. The dirty secret in men's tennis is that the guy has been fairly insufferable lately.
This isn't just from the grumps in the media. This has been noticed by everyone from ATP personnel to former Grand Slam champs to current players. And this diminishing reputation has nothing to do with match results or a stagnating game. It's all about disposition.
I haven't hidden my fondness for Roddick over the years. But it's probably about time he got called on his you-know-what. And heeding Roddick's advice to Nishikori, we're going to stick him with it: I cringed as Roddick dressed down Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and winced as he sucked down champagne and blew off the Portland, Ore., kids seeking autographs at the Davis Cup, and bristled at this laughable, Connors-ian me-against-the-world routine.
But he completely lost me in Australia. Roddick's tirade against the umpire -- some poor guy with kids watching at home -- was not only low-rent, but also played to every Ugly American stereotype. Roddick played the role of posturing bully frat boy, even when he didn't have right on his side.
Part of what makes this all so disappointing is that Roddick is better than this. I wish I had transcripts of some of the interviews I had with Roddick when he was 20. He simply "got it." He understood the flaws and virtues of tennis. His sportsmanship was beyond reproach. I vividly recall his losing to Pete Sampras at the 2002 U.S. Open, commenting that injuries were not a factor and then, in the locker room, removing a shoe to reveal a foot that looked fit for amputation.
He was accessible and accommodating. He did little things like pronounce Guillermo Coria's first name correctly; he did big things like launch a legit foundation, not the pay-my-friends-to-show-up-and-donate-the-table-scraps sham that so many other athletes perpetrate.
It's discouraging that at 26, Roddick has regressed almost to the point of cliché: another boorish athlete who appears to have forgotten that he was once that kid with the Sharpie in his extended hand. How is it that Roddick -- that wide-eyed teenager with Nebraska Cornhuskers wallpaper and pragmatic Wisconsin parents -- is now all about NetJets, model-dating and high-stakes poker games?