- The Washington Times - Monday, August 13, 2001

MASON, OHIO When it comes to the whip-like art of serving a tennis ball, Andy Roddick moves at three speeds: fast, faster and fastest.
There's his toss, a quick, low flip of the ball. There's his swing, a rapid, scything swoop that seems culled from an industrial chopping block. There's the serve itself, often traveling at more than 130 mph.
And then there's the typical result: a frozen, unblinking opponent, stoically trudging to the adjacent service box.
"He's got an arm that belies biomechanics, physiology, you name it," said tour veteran Todd Martin. "And his serve is a joke."
The punch line? Roddick's fearsome blasts aren't the only things moving at high velocity. Over the last year, the 18-year-old from Boca Raton, Fla., has shot from No. 325 to No. 24 in the ATP Champions Race, establishing himself as the top young talent in American tennis a ball-crushing, star-slaying, backward-cap-wearing bundle of barely-tapped potential.
"He's the real thing," said U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe, who coached Roddick during the United States' 4-1 loss to Switzerland in February. "His game speaks for itself, and he's got a great attitude. I had seen him play a bit in juniors, but the Davis Cup was the first time I saw him [regularly]. From the first day, I was impressed."
McEnroe's not the only one. Roddick, the No. 9 seed in this week's Legg Mason Tennis Classic, has made a powerful impression on many of the tour's biggest names since turning pro in February.
In March, he knocked off former world No. 1 Marcelo Rios at Miami's Ericsson Open, then dispatched 13-time Grand Slam champion Pete Sampras in his next match. At the French Open, Roddick outlasted former champion Michael Chang in an epic five-set marathon. And at Wimbledon, he outslugged No. 11 seed Thomas Johansson then the tour's hottest grass court player to win in his Centre Court debut.
Two weeks ago, Roddick added current No. 1 and French Open champ Gustavo Kuerten to the list at a Masters Series Event in Montreal.
"If you had told me a year ago that I was going to be No. 27 in the world heading into Washington, I wouldn't have believed it," Roddick said. "But I've had some good opportunities and I've made the most of them."
Indeed. Roddick has won two tournaments this season, making him just one of eight players to win multiple tour titles this season.
With his first title, at the Verizon Tennis Challenge in Atlanta, Roddick became the first American teen-ager to win a tournament since Chang in 1992. And Roddick's second title, at the U.S. Clay Court National Championships in Houston, made him the first American teen to win back-to-back events since Andre Agassi in 1988.
Small wonder, then, that many tennis observers have tagged Roddick as the next big thing in American tennis, a potential standard bearer in the mold of Grand Slam champs Agassi, Chang, Sampras and Jim Courier.
"The future of American tennis is looking very good," Sampras said after losing to Roddick in Miami. "The way he competes and the way he plays, he really is the future."

Game and guts

Like Sampras, Roddick's game begins with his serve, an outsized weapon of almost embarrassing proportions. Roddick is one of only five players to record a serve of 140 mph or above in ATP play; in Atlanta, he averaged 124 mph.
Couple that with a spin-heavy second serve that's nasty in its own right against Johansson, Roddick uncorked a 117-mph second serve to save a break point and the results have been, as Martin might put it, laughable.
In Atlanta, Roddick won a jaw-dropping 42 straight service games. Against Chang, he blasted a French Open-record 37 aces (to go with 32 service winners). During a loss to Kuerten last week, he unleashed a 137-mph ace on his first serve of the match.
In Miami, Roddick hit Sampras with a serve. Twice.
"A couple of them went into my body, just kind of caught me off guard," Sampras said. "He really can crack it pretty good."
And Roddick is no one-shot wonder. He owns a punishing forehand a hard, torquing shot that also is reminiscent of Sampras and a deceptively deft touch at the net. Even his lunging, unpolished backhand is rapidly improving: Against Kuerten, Roddick smacked a handful of two-fisted return winners.
"In a year, he'll have a backhand," said Roddick's coach, former pro Tarik Benhabiles. "He's getting much, much better. He needs time, but he'll have a complete game he has to, if he wants to become great."
For all his gifts, however, it's Roddick's tenacious attitude that has generated the most buzz. Though he favors floppy-sleeved T-shirts and a baseball cap turned backward, Roddick is no stereotypical tennis brat, rock n' roll image masking a cotton-candy core.
"Probably the most impressive thing or the most important thing is that he enjoys competing," Martin said. "And he does it very well."
Chang can attest to that. Racked by severe arm and leg cramps in the final set of their second round showdown at Roland Garros, Roddick grimaced, limped and yelped his way to victory in a match that spanned three hours and 40 minutes.
In his next match, against Australia's Lleyton Hewitt, Roddick took a nasty fall and strained his left thigh. Unable to run, he played four more points before retiring, leaving the court in tears.
"He's a guy that I feel real comfortable going to war with," McEnroe said. "That's his nature, to stay out there and gut it out. And that's going to help him a lot in his career."
Roddick's toughness is already paying dividends: Against Kuerten, Roddick twisted his ankle early, forcing him to wear a large splint. In obvious pain and barely able to move from side-to-side, Roddick still pushed the world's top player to a tiebreak.
"I was going to give it a run," said Roddick, who ultimately lost in straight sets. "Maybe if I could win the first set or get up an early break in the second, something would happen. And then, when you're down 4-1, 5-1, whatever, you don't want to bag it. You finish the match."

Coming up

Roddick honed his competitive drive at an early age. And frankly, he didn't have much choice in the matter. The youngest of three brothers, Roddick wasn't the first star athlete in his family.
In fact, he wasn't even the first tennis prodigy.
Roddick's oldest brother, Lawrence, was a teammate of Greg Louganis on the U.S. National Diving Team. As a young child Andy would sometimes join Lawrence at the practice pool, mimicking his dives.
Meanwhile, Roddick's middle brother, John, was trying his luck at tennis. He progressed so rapidly that the Roddick family moved from Austin, Texas, to Boca Raton in order to enroll John in a year-round tennis academy.
As John quickly rose through the junior ranks ultimately becoming a three-time All-American at the University of Georgia, where he's now an assistant coach his precocious little brother tagged along.
"John was always the big tennis star, the guy we looked up to," said Bob Bryan, a tour pro and friend of Roddick's since childhood. "Andy was just a little rug rat, running around and playing dinkum on the sidelines while his brother was playing matches."
Bryan isn't kidding: In early 1997, Roddick was a 5-foot-1 afterthought, a scrappy, scrambling player with little power to speak of.
"I just got a lot of balls back, scrapped and clawed and tried to win points any way I could," Roddick said.
Two years, and one major growth spurt later, Roddick was over 6 feet and hitting with newfound authority. Subsequently, he began his climb to the top of the junior ranks a journey that accelerated with the arrival of Benhabiles.
"Tarik is a very good coach," said tour pro Jan Michael-Gambill, Roddick's closest friend on the tour. "We're very good friends he's best friends with my dad and I can say he really knows the game.
"More importantly, he cares about Andy and his well-being. A coach can't just be a hired gun out there. And they have a good relationship."
Roddick and Benhabiles met during a rain delay at the 1999 American Junior Nationals. By sheer coincidence, Roddick and his mother, Blanche, happened to share a canopy with Benhabiles. As the trio talked, they decided that the former pro might be a good match for Roddick, who had just split with his previous coach.
"I was really at a crossroads," Roddick said. "I didn't know if I wanted to just go to an academy, hit balls, and then to college, or if I wanted to find a coach and go for things seriously."
Benhabiles, a 5-7 plugger who rose to No. 21 in the world through little more than a Brad Gilbert-like mix of hustle and guile, challenged Roddick with a simple mandate: Become a player, not just a hitter.
"He was hitting everything," Benhabiles said. "And he had no idea what he was doing."
Roddick responded by winning two major Florida junior tournaments, the Eddie Herr and the Orange Bowl. He was even better last year, capturing the Australian and U.S. Open junior titles.
Following Roddick's dominant performance at junior Slams he swept through both draws without dropping a set he finished 2000 as the world's top ranked junior, the first American to do so in eight years.
Along the way, Roddick experienced his first taste of Davis Cup and ATP tour play. In April of last year, he was selected as a practice partner for the U.S. Davis Cup squad that tied with the Czech Republic; in August, he had his best professional showing yet, advancing to the Legg Mason quarterfinals before falling to Agassi.
"That was probably my best tennis of 2000," Roddick said. "It was a breakout for me, the first time I had won [multiple] matches at a pro event."
Impressed, Agassi traveled to Boca Raton last October, practicing with Roddick for nearly a week.
"He'll call and ask if I'm going to be in town, if I'd like to hit," Roddick said. "And of course, I'm going to clear my schedule. He's very professional, very intense. I've learned a lot just by playing with him."

Room to grow

Despite his rapid rise, Roddick remains in many ways a typical teen. He still lives with his parents. He doesn't own a car. His bathroom at home is decorated with Nebraska Cornhuskers wallpaper (Roddick was born in Omaha).
On the road, Roddick calls home at least twice a week. He also pals around with Gambill, Bryan and Bryan's twin brother, Mike. In Cincinnati, he spent a day riding roller coasters at King's Island, a local amusement park.
"We like to do fun stuff, go to the movies, go out to dinner," Gambill said. "Just hanging out and keeping each other company. It can get lonely on tour you have a lot of acquaintances, and not a lot of good friends. So it's huge when you can find [a friend like Roddick]."
According to Bob Bryan, Roddick hasn't changed much since his days at Boca Prep, where he held a 3.6 GPA, was named prom king and even played on the school's basketball team (much to the chagrin of his tennis coach).
Then again, that was only last year.
"Andy's a goofball," Bryan said. "Big time. He loves 'South Park.' He's always imitating cartoon characters. He knows every line from 'American Pie.' Off the court, he's one of the funniest guys I know."
On the court, Roddick is similarly flush with youthful exuberance. He yells. Groans. Plays to the crowd. He even moves in charmingly awkward fashion, with a coltish gait that suggests a battle of wills between his hips and ankles.
After beating Chang at the French Open, Roddick ripped his shirt in celebration. At Wimbledon, he donned his player ID badge before leaving Centre Court highly unusual, given that he had just won a featured match and later explained that he didn't want security to think he was trying to sneak into the locker room.
Naturally, fans adore him. Roddick was the darling of Roland Garros and an instant hit at the All England Club. In Cincinnati, his arrival on stadium court generated more applause than Kuerten's no minor feat, given the small army of flag-waving, "Ole"-chanting Brazilian fans that seem to materialize wherever Guga goes.
"People are attracted to [Roddick]," McEnroe said. "They can see that he loves to be out on the court. That's something you can't teach, and that's why when I go out to the practice court to hit with him, there's a couple hundred people watching him."
Or even a couple million. Since March, Roddick has appeared on a pair of national talk shows "The Early Show" and "The Late Late Show" as well as MTV's "Total Request Live." In Cincinnati, he threw out the first pitch at a Reds game.
"We've got reporters coming from Germany to do stories on him," said Graeme Agars, vice president of communications for the ATP. "He's the hot young player. He was the biggest story the first week of the French Open."
For all the attention, Roddick is still very much a work in progress. Benhabiles says his charge needs to work on "everything." And Roddick reminds anyone who will listen that he's a long way from No. 1.
"I'm not even close to that," he said. "There's a lot of guys out there that are a lot better than me."
That said, Roddick's career continues to rush forward. Having earned his first Davis Cup victory in the United States' 4-1 loss to Switzerland, Roddick figures to lead the squad against India this September. And before that, of course, comes the U.S. Open.
"I think he could do serious damage at the Open, and capture the imagination of New York," McEnroe said. "But it's up to him to play well. Now that he's getting better and better, he'll have to be even more diligent. The other players know about him, and it's certainly not going to get any easier.
"But he's been able to go over every bar that's been raised for him. And I'm pretty confident he'll continue to do that."
McEnroe isn't the only one.
"I'm not scared of disappointing people," Roddick said. "I'm going to go out and give it my best effort. I'm going to work hard. We'll see where that takes me. Nobody knows what's going to happen."
Maybe not. But given where Roddick has already been, one thing seems certain.
Wherever he ends up, he's bound to get there quickly.

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