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In defense of Andy

Roddick deserves better than the recent word-lashing

Posted: Monday March 10, 2008 3:03PM; Updated: Monday March 10, 2008 3:11PM
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Andy Roddick is on one of his hottest streaks in years, winning two events in two weeks.
Andy Roddick is on one of his hottest streaks in years, winning two events in two weeks.
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Yes, Andy Roddick is my friend. But that's not why I'm about to spout off. This is about coming face-to-face with a fellow writer who I believe took it too far -- even though he's the guy who got me this gig.

I'm writing this because a 25-year-old professional tennis player -- one who has already won the U.S. Open, held the No. 1 ranking in the world and has been the stalwart of the reigning Davis Cup champions -- doesn't deserve to be represented as a failure or a malcontent.

He deserves to be appreciated as a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer who continues to strive for excellence on and of the court. This doesn't mean Roddick shouldn't be subjected to criticism -- one of Andy's most admirable qualities is his self-deprecation and acknowledgement of his flaws (e.g., "I've been a brat long before working with Jimmy Connors, so don't blame that on him!").

I understand the symbiotic relationship between athletes and the media. The more attention and exposure an athlete gets, the more marketable he becomes. The better the access the media gets to an athlete, the better the job it can do to paint interesting, entertaining insights.

Star athletes are big targets, and Roddick has had a huge bulls-eye on his chest since winning the U.S. Open in 2003 and then falling short of other people's unrealistic expectations.

All that said, I feel my colleague Jon Wertheim took it too far in this demeaning and overzealous take on Roddick in his Mailbag a few weeks back.

As far as sportswriters go, Jon is in the top echelon. But if you're going to make statements as accusatory and defamatory as "blowing off kids for autographs," "jaded by your existence," "hating the tour," "insufferable" and insinuating that "everyone from ATP personnel to former Grand Slam champs" concur with your assessment that Andy holds himself as the "smartest guy in the room and everyone else is an idiot," you'd better do better research.

For one, referencing Roddick's charitable foundation in the past tense belittles the effort he continues to put into it and minimizes the $2 million dollars he raised this year and the more than $10 million total he has raised for the Andy Roddick Foundation. Andy lives and breathes his foundation and is making a huge impact in people's lives while using the positive side of his celebrity.

The hits he's taking for not playing "dead rubbers" in Davis Cup competition are utterly ridiculous. How about lauding his unparalleled commitment to the Davis Cup in today's era? Would you prefer Andy save his body after a tie is decided? Or have him pull a Roger Federer/Rafael Nadal, and not play at all? Does the NBA ask Dwyane Wade to play exhibition basketball games after deciding the championship?

Don't fault Roddick for a system that is obsolete. Mocking him for celebrating the Davis Cup accomplishment with a few too many drinks? Is that the worst you can say about him? He's 25, not 17. He signs more autographs then any player on tour. To state he "sucked down champagne and blew off the Portland kids" is too harsh. I highly doubt too many tennis fans left unhappy in Oregon last December after hearing them blow the roof off the stadium during the weekend.

And then the jab about the guarantees? Paying star players to play lower-tier ATP events has gone on since the inception of the tour, and trust me, if tournament promoters didn't see value in it, they wouldn't do it. I know for a fact that Andy has turned down huge sums of money while at events just because it would have been dangerous or unprofessional to play hurt or unprepared.

Go take a look at last year's draw in Bangkok, Thailand, where Andy was scheduled to play after another yeomen's effort in Davis Cup. He flew all the way from Sweden to honor the commitment and give himself the best chance to participate in the event.

When his foot injury worsened, he was faced with a precarious decision: a tournament director asking him to take the court in a compromised state in order to earn an enormous guarantee that could buy a house, or pull himself out of the event because deep down he knew his foot was injured and he wouldn't have been able to give a full effort. That's character; that's what defines someone, not the few times your emotions get the best of you on the court because you care so darn much.

I'm not defending Andy's tirade in Australia, but I also know that, until you feel the emotion of competing and the personal nature associated with it, pundits would be best served toning down their criticism.

Granted, now that my playing days are over, I've also moved over to the safe haven of the press corps. I can verify that it's a lot more comfortable in the safe confines of the media room than the hyper-competitive world of professional sports.

Jon isn't alone in his criticisms, not by a long shot. So my ire isn't just directed at him, but the institution that believes it has the right to hold athletes to a standard there is no way they themselves could uphold. Even Peter Bodo, a guy who's as respected as Wertheim in the elite of tennis writers, suggested Roddick had become somewhat of a jerk during his now-finished working relationship with Connors. And let's not even start with the wave of criticism Roddick has taken on some of the more prominent tennis blogs out there.

I guess that's just a result of the proliferation of media outlets, where any malcontent with a computer and a wireless signal can post a blog and vent his misguided angst. I just hope those with the best view get to have the greatest influence on public opinion.

Maybe a few of the so-called experts that get to sit high above the court, safely tucked away from the pain and pride of competition should have been in Chatham, N.J., last December when Andy found his own way to my charity event during a snow storm when he found out one of my other marquee players couldn't make his flight because of the weather.

Unsolicited, Andy gave up one of his few days off during the offseason and helped raise more than $300,000 for my own pediatric cancer charity. I guarantee you that every one of the 2,000 people who were there would paint a much different picture of Andy than the one splashed across SI.com's tennis section with the headline, "The Ugly American."

Former ATP pro Justin Gimelstob writes bi-weekly for SI.com.

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