Early Saturday morning—many hours before the tennis world tore itself asunder amidst the full-tilt-boogie insanity of the women’s final—I played doubles against the 2003 US Open champion, former world-number-one, and recently inducted hall of fame member Andy Roddick and his partner. My partner and I beat him in the best two out of three, with me sealing the deal with an unreturnable overhead smash.
All of the above is literally true. Only catch: The “best two out of three” was points, not sets. And Andy’s partner had about as much of a right to be there as I did, which is to say: We lucked out, as participants in a Marriott Rewards & SPG Moment master class—basically the notion is that, rather than trading in your frequent-flier points for flight deals and hotel upgrades, you opt for a. . . drumroll please. . . experience.
And an experience it was. One thing I’ve always been curious about: What’s it really like to be on the receiving end of a pro-level serve? Two days later, I’m now curious about how long it really takes for a purple welt on my hip to go away. (Full disclosure: While I displayed no prodigious gifts and startled no one, least of all Roddick, with my returning abilities, I’m counting it a success that I got a solid racquet on all of his 110-mph serves, barring the one fielded by my hip—though it should be noted that during his pro career, Roddick hit them a full 40 mph faster.)
After hitting around for an hour or so, I sat down with Roddick for a quick chat about the Hall of Fame honors, his charity, and what it felt like to leave the game behind.
What’s it like to be sitting around at home one day and your phone rings, telling you that you’re about to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame?
It’s a call I thought might have been possible some day—I didn’t think it was going to be the first go-round that I was eligible. I thought that space was reserved for people like Roger and Rafa—better players than me. But it’s the dream of a lifetime. When you’re a kid, you dream about being a pro, not ending up in the hall of fame.
Kim Clijsters was also eligible last year, and she’s been a dear friend—we’ve known each other since we were twelve—and I was never concerned about when I might get in. I just hoped that Kim and I might go in in the same class, and we did. Which was amazing.
When did you first know you were good?
There wasn’t one moment—there were different stages. When I was nine, I was playing fifteen-year-olds—and winning. I think I always knew I could go to college anywhere I wanted to. And that was a nice thing to know. But I wasn’t one of those prodigies. I got kind of good when I was 16 or 17. And then when I was about 130th in the world and had won some minor league tournaments, I played Pete Sampras in Miami and beat him—when he was #2 or #3 in the world and one of the best players in the world. That was pretty eye-opening.
And when you look back on your career now, what’s the highlight? Is it winning here in 2003—or some lesser-known, less-obvious thing?
The victory here, obviously, is amazing, but it happened so quickly in my career. Probably the favorite week of my career was actually when I retired here in 2012. I announced it after my first round and then finished out the tournament, but right after I announced it, it felt like the pressure was off. I had every conversation with every fan along the way, and for a week got out of my little selfish existence and appreciated the US Open and the 13, 14, 15 years that I had spent here. Then I went back to Austin to work on my charity.
What’s it focused on?
It’s called the Andy Roddick Foundation—I thought of the name myself—and we work in three schools in Austin, Texas, about 250 kids per school, from lower socio-economic areas. We focus on financial and tech literacy and growing sustainable foods. And we run eleven different sites for Austin Parks & Recreation. We helped about 3,000 kids just this summer. We have a full-time staff of ten and a volunteer staff in the hundreds. And I’d say a minority of kids have any idea I’ve ever played tennis, which is fantastic. We’re doing great things for kids and entire families that really need it in the city of Austin—and I get a free education every time we have a board meetings. It’s great.
[As noted above, the following questions, like the above questions, were asked before the women’s final. They’re included here as they seem relevant.]
Care to handicap the women’s final happening later today?
Serena’s been a dear friend of mine since we’ve been kids, so I’d really like to see this mama win. I’ve seen a sense of calm about her over the last two weeks. She’s normally a bit more up and down emotionally, and she’s been kind of calm and determined. It feels like a date with destiny.
I think she’s gonna win a lot of Grand Slams.
Read More Stories From the Culture Section: