THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Grunt work: Let's give Andy Roddick a rest

Does hard work make greatness?
Flickr/Keith Allison

I had a dream the other night that Andre Agassi was my father and I was about to partner with Andy Roddick in the doubles finals at Wimbledon against Roger Federer and John McEnroe.

"Dad," I said. "I'm not ready. Help me. I only have a badminton racquet. Tell me something, anything."

"I don't play tennis anymore," Andre-in-the-guise-of-Dad replied. "And you'll do fine. Don't worry."

And with that he sent me off for an hour of pre-match practice on a tennis court made of sand.

I don't know which aspect of my dream was more absurd, that Andre Agassi was my father or that I would be "fine" with Roddick as a doubles partner. Even against a 51-year-old and a hurt Roger Federer (more on that in a bit), Andy Roddick, the second-hardest working man in tennis, would surely find a way to lose.

If I were to make a list of things that confound me about sports, I'd run out of ink before I reached the end: the Cubs trading Mark DeRosa, why Los Angeles doesn't have an NFL team, how people still view Muhammad Ali as a saint (see Joe Frazier), and how on earth Andy Roddick isn't selling wristbands on the Home Shopping Network.

When he lost to 82nd-ranked Yen-Hsun Lu of Taiwan at Wimbledon, Roddick was just a year past his epic battle with Roger Federer for the grass court championship and the high point of his career. Roddick's rank in this year's Wimbledon didn't come easy— he's won only one Grand Slam title in his entire career, and that was the 2003 U. S. Open. It was grunt work that earned that number-seven seed.

Roddick may be married to a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, but that's about all that's glamourous about his life. Every year, he hits the road and earns his money the hard way, not just playing in Grand Slams and Masters, but in tournaments the superstars have probably never even heard of. (Can you see Rafael Nadal at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis?)  He has to– it's the only way he can earn a decent paycheck and a decent ranking.

Last year's Wimbledon final aside, Andy Roddick is not a great tennis player, no matter his ranking. Already this year he's won the Brisbane International by defeating defending champion Radek Štěpánek (ever heard of him?), and the Sony Ericsson Open by defeating Tomas Berdych (where was he before this year's Wimbledon?). But he lost in the finals, semifinals, and quarterfinals of five tournaments– in the third round twice, including at the French Open– and in the fourth round at Wimbledon. 

Andy Roddick is not a great tennis player; he's not even almost a great tennis player. At best he's a pretty good second-tier tennis player who can be counted on to reach the final rounds of small tournaments most of the time. And that's okay– it's the public's expectations of him that aren't okay. 

Why– seven years after he last won a nationally televised tournament– do we still look up to him? He may be the only American in the game, but that's no reason to put such pressure on him. Last year, Roddick was eliminated from the U.S. Open in the third round. He doesn't need to carry the hopes of an entire country on his back anymore.

And now to Roger Federer. Whether his back and knees were hurting as he claimed, his loss to 12th-seeded Tomas Berdych in Wimbledon's quarterfinals was a shock to everyone. 

The expected Federer-Nadal final was not to be. For the second time in three years, analysts and fans alike are predicting the end of Federer's career, and they're as premature now as they were two years ago. 

How long can the hardest-working man in tennis keep up the pace of winning two or three Grand Slams a year? And if Federer wins only one Slam this year (he's already won the Australian Open), does that mean his career is over? 

If it does, thank goodness my tennis career is only a dream.


Juanita Giles lives in Keysville where she makes videos and updates her Sports Doctor site.