- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) — His hair spiked and jeans ripped, Andy Roddick strode through Times Square with pop star girlfriend Mandy Moore yesterday.

Passers-by slapped Roddick on the shoulder (he smiled). Or asked him to stop and pose for a photo (he obliged). Or offered congratulations (MTV’s Carson Daly rode by, lowered his car’s tinted window and shouted: “Way to go, Andy!”).

Morning interviews with “Today” and “Regis & Kelly” were behind him. Appearances on ESPN, CNN and David Letterman’s “Late Show” awaited.

It was a whirlwind start to Roddick’s new life as a Grand Slam champion, a day after he beat new No.1 Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-3 in the U.S. Open final.

“It’s craziness. I would have never imagined what it was like to win a Slam, and I never imagined the aftermath of it, either,” Roddick said. “Reality’s coming back tomorrow.”

That might not quite be the case. After all, there already were plenty of expectations. Now that will be ratcheted up, which is how it has to be if tennis is going to increase its popularity in the United States.

Pete Sampras is gone, Andre Agassi is 33, and so far none of the young non-American stars (French Open champion Ferrero, Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, 2001 U.S. Open champion Lleyton Hewitt) has shown the combination of charm and charisma that helped Bjorn Borg or Boris Becker draw fans.

This U.S. Open final produced the event’s lowest TV rating in five years. Is that because people don’t know who Roddick is? There are more likely explanations: A week of rain made for a disjointed event, plus the previous four finals involved Sampras or Agassi or both.

By winning, Roddick quickly began to fulfill what’s been predicted for him. His first major title came in his 12th Grand Slam tournament; Agassi, for example, needed 18.

“In America, we have such a long line and tradition of Grand Slam champions, that it’s almost expected. It definitely is a monkey off my back,” Roddick said. “I got sick of hearing it. I’m not going to lie. It was there before I deserved it. … I’ve always had — fair or not fair — attention paid to me. A lot of it was undeserved.”

Roddick is now a career-best No.2 in the rankings and said yesterday his objective is to finish the year at No.1.

“I’m not at the top yet,” he said. “This is awesome for me. I’m so happy. But it doesn’t make me any less hungry. I definitely want to get out there and keep working hard and keep trying to improve.”

If anyone is set up to handle what’s ahead, it’s Roddick.

He’s a natural entertainer who, a la Jimmy Connors, slapped high-fives with spectators after one point at last year’s Open.

He’s comfortable speaking his mind, something Sampras never quite mastered, but Agassi, Connors and John McEnroe all did.

And, most importantly, he has a strong support system in place, one that’s carried him this far and will help him in the future.

His parents and brothers keep him grounded. His sister-in-law Ginger handles PR. And coach Brad Gilbert, who used to work with Agassi, has guided Roddick to a 37-2 record since June.

“Every person ahas done something in a totally different way,” Roddick said yesterday during an interview with a small group of reporters.

“My mom has been driving me to tennis practices since I was I don’t know how old. The mind things Brad has done with me. My trainer — how many countless times we’ve stretched out together. It was a culmination of all those little things put into one.”

Roddick turned 21 halfway through the U.S. Open, and the signs of his maturity are plenty.

He didn’t take the bait when told second-round foe Ivan Ljubicic ripped his on-court demeanor and said other players don’t like Roddick. Instead, Roddick said all the right things to the media and called the Croat to hash things out.

And he didn’t panic when he lost the first two sets and faced a match point during his semifinal.

“His abilities and his knowledge for playing big points now — it seems to me to be a lot different. He’s not as overanxious at times. He’s able to stay in there, to work the point a little bit more,” Connors said.

“He’s big, he’s strong, he’s powerful, he moves around the court well.”

After losing in the first round of the French Open, Roddick decided to part with longtime coach Tarik Benhabiles. Roddick took a train from London, where he was getting ready for Wimbledon, to Paris to break the news.

“That was the toughest day,” Roddick said, “as far as stepping up and having to be an adult.”

Now that he’s stepped up on court, too, anything seems possible.

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