He was at a loss to explain much further.
“I’m very thankful for the support that I have right now because it’s been fleeting throughout my career,” said Roddick at the press conference.
“I would be lying if I sat here and said I totally understood it.”
In tennis, more than perhaps any other sport, our perceptions of players can reverse themselves. Jennifer Capriati transformed herself from talented but lazy drama queen to a hardworking underdog favorite. Andre Agassi shaved his head in 1995, and suddenly he went from being a vain lout to a personally modest, well-conditioned workhorse.
There has been no similar transformation of Roddick’s persona. He is the same as always: chatty but sardonic, confident but not unpleasant.
His game, however, is a study in dogged evolution. He’s gone through four coaches in five years, not because he’s fickle, but because he’s single-minded in his desire to catch up to his tormenters in tennis’ top tier.
“I think the biggest change for Roddick came when he changed the backhand,” said Bollettieri, the tennis coaching legend. “When you go back to previous films, his backhand was very stiff. If you look at it today, he is using the top hand in his backhand. He gets under it and he can really drive it. For the first time in his career, he can hit cross-court, he can hit down the line, he can put spin on the ball, he can hit to the angles.”
Roddick’s new game, along with his sheer persistence—culminating in that showing at Wimbledon—has in turn changed his public image.
“Andy could have taken it a lot easier on himself, settled into a top-10 career and made plenty of money with far less pressure and expectations,” said Carillo, the TV analyst. “That he didn’t do that is a testament to his heart and ambition.”
“He showed a lot in that match,” said Wertheim, the tennis writer. “The guy has been in the top 10 for seven years. Tennis has had its Kournikova players who are more style than substance. But seven years in the top 10 can’t all be marketing. He hung tough and could have said, ‘It was nice to be here, I make my million bucks and I’m married to a supermodel!’ Instead he plays for five hours and nearly wins that match.”
Days after Wimbledon, Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnanski admitted that while, yes, he was always aware of the game’s biggest server, he “never had any feelings about him.” Before the Wimbledon final, Mr. Posnanski said, he was set to root for Federer—naturally, he was a fan. After the first set, he found himself “unexpectedly” rooting for Roddick.
“I think it came from a theme that I find constantly and endlessly fascinating,” he wrote in a 1,500-word valentine to Andy Roddick. “That is: The theme of ordinary people reaching for their moment. … When it ended, Roddick looked like a broken man. And I could feel that pain with him—couldn’t we all? He was damned good. He was probably better than he had ever been in his life. And he wasn’t quite good enough. Isn’t that the saddest thing about sports?
“I really like Andy Roddick now,” he concluded. “On Sunday at Wimbledon, he offered that rare fan feeling: He made me feel like we had been through something together.”
‘WHERE’S ANDY’S MOJO?’
In 2005, two years after his Open triumph, at the early stages of Roger Federer’s ascent, Roddick began to slip. He’d lost his Open crown to Federer, and two straight Wimbledon finals.
With the bandwagon just beginning to clear out, the folks at American Express created a rallying cry for Roddick’s dropping stock: “Where’s Andy Mojo?” Roddick’s face was on just about every ad around the No. 7 train stop in Willets Point. There were nonstop commercials.
Roddick duly responded by losing in the first round of the Open in straight sets.
The backlash, particularly in the context of the rise of the no-frills Federer, began in earnest.
“It’s just too bad that famous credit card company spent millions on Andy Roddick’s mojo, only to watch him crash out of the tournament before it barely began,” wrote Lisa Olson in the Daily News, comparing him unfavorably to James Blake, Agassi and Federer.