Tennis fans in the United States have been following the huge success of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi for many years. But as the two greats enter the twilight of their careers, a talented teenager has burst into the spotlight. Andy Roddick is a first time contender in the men's draw in this year's U.S. Open in New York.
Just one year ago, Andy Roddick claimed the U.S. Open junior title to make him the first American in eight years to become the top World Junior player.
This year, the 19-year-old Roddick is playing for big money and wins on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour. In just a few months and against some of the top players in the world, the teenager from Omaha, Nebraska already has three career titles. Roddick won his first clay court events in consecutive weeks at tournaments in Atlanta and Houston. His first hardcourt win came this month in Washington.
The success has catapulted Roddick to number 25 in the world rankings before the start of this year's U.S. Open in New York.
A key weapon in Roddick's arsenal has been a sizzling serve that blurs past opponents at two-hundred-25 kilometers per hour. His ability to finesse returns was refined before he found his power as a young adult.
Roddick won his first ATP title in just his 10th career tournament, faster than Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Michael Chang and Jim Courier. Earlier this year, Roddick also made his Davis Cup debut against Switzerland. U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe says Roddick is very competitive. "He loves to play tennis," he adds. "He enjoys the game. He enjoys the crowd. His game has a lot of flair with his serve and his athleticism and his power. But he also has finesse. He is not afraid to show his emotions. He is not afraid to show people how he feels, [he's] not afraid to get psyched. He is not afraid to get down and throw his racket when he gets ticked off. But he comes back right away when he does get down. And I think people just relate to him."
Roddick has also shown maturity beyond his years in dealing with his newfound fame. "It is still a tennis court once you get there," he says. "And what is going on around it should not affect the way I play."
But Roddick's results speak for themselves. McEnroe says Roddick reminds him of Boris Becker when the German great was younger. "He has the big serve. He does come to the net. He has a powerful game from the ground," says McEnroe. "He jives all over the court and he plays with that sort of youthful exuberance. To me that sort of epitomizes the young kids in our country today. The way he is sort of a skateboard dude and the hat backwards. He just loves it out there."
In a battle between generations, Roddick faced fellow American Michael Chang in the second round at Roland Garros in a match that brought back memories of Chang's 1989 surprise run to the French Open title in Paris. With Roddick cramping badly in the fifth set, he finally prevailed in three hours, 50 minutes in a display of grit and determination. He also served a record 37 aces against Chang. That total was the most in any clay court match. Roddick says while he knows he will never replace Sampras or Agassi, he has great respect for the reigning U.S. players and is hoping to find similar success with his own style. "It is Sampras, Agassi, Chang and Courier four of the greatest ever," he adds. "So, I am just going to try to do my thing."
Roddick is off to a great start, with wins this year over four former top-ranked players, including Sampras.