Here’s a somewhat depressing fact for people who like to see Americans succeed in things: No American man has won a Grand Slam singles tennis tournament since 2003.
The last guy to do it? Andy Roddick, who serve-and-volleyed his way to the US Open title as a baby-faced 21-year-old and reached four more Grand Slam finals (including three Wimbledon finals) before retiring in 2012 at age 30.
But if you think Roddick has lost much of the heat from a service game that made him the No. 1 player in the world 12 years ago, think again. Here’s Roddick blasting a couple of 130-mph-or-so fastballs against yours truly at the kickoff to the Grey Goose Winning Shot program—a series of extraordinary afterparties—last week. (Yes, the second one did knock the racquet out of my hand. In retrospect, I probably should’ve backed away from the baseline about 10 or 15 feet. Not that it would’ve probably mattered too much.)
Anyway, with the US Open culminating this weekend in Queens, we sat down with Roddick in Manhattan’s East Village over a couple of Honey Deuce cocktails to ask him about his finest hour in Flushing Meadows, his tips for the average player and—sure, why not—how guys can bag a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model like he did.
Do you get tired of talking about your US Open win?
No, is the short answer. Not because it’s this egotistical thing, but I certainly understand that it’s the biggest accomplishment I’ve ever had. I can’t try to reap the benefits of everything and not want to talk about the thing that’s the reason for everything else, you know? So I completely get it. In a humble way. Not in a braggadocio way.
What jumps out at you about that win?
I think the process of it all. It was almost as if ignorance was bliss as far as being 20, 21. You almost feel like you’re shot out of a cannon. I got way more nervous later on in my career—like my last Wimbledon final, when you don’t know if you’re going to get there again. You’re 20, 21. You’re full of piss and vinegar. You go out there and just let it fly. And I don’t know that I really grasped the significance of what was happening.
Right, that makes sense.
But that whole six-month span of breaking into the top 10, getting into the semis of Wimbledon and losing to Roger [Federer] but getting into the business end of the tournament, winning everything that summer, being probably the favorite going into the US Open and dealing with that… It was a good celebration. Not a lot of people get to mix their 21st birthday with winning a US Open.
“You’re 21. You’re full of piss and vinegar. You go out there and just let it fly. And I don’t know that I really grasped the significance of what was happening.”
Was it the same night?
No. During the tournament I turned 21. But obviously there’s no celebration during the tournament. So afterwards, it was, uh, it was fun.
What did you do?
Went out with a bunch of friends. It was probably a place like this [Editor’s note: a small bar]. It was full of people you knew and it was just fun. I had to be up early the next day, so I wasn’t out the latest, but it was a really fun memory.
Did you think it was the first of many Grand Slam titles for you?
Yeah, I did, I did. Well, I don’t know that I ever thought in that context. I certainly didn’t feel entitled to more. If you had asked me at that moment if I thought I was going to win more, I would have said yes. But it’s so weird. Like, it’s so consuming on an everyday basis that I never—and people think I’m lying—but I never thought past… Like, I went to the next tournament, and whoever I was playing that day was trying to kick my ass, and that was my concern.
So… would I have said that I would have won more slams? Yes. Was I shocked that I didn’t at 26? Probably not shocked, no. I mean, it’s a competitive landscape, and then you run into the GOAT, you run into Roger. I mean, things happen. Shit happens. And you go about it, and you wake up the next day and it’s like a day-by-day thing that ends up being a 13-year career.
Right. I think McEnroe didn’t win any Grand Slams after he was 28 or something, and he thought he would win more.
Yeah, I think he was younger than that. Might have been even 24 or 25. Nothing after ’84 or something like that. [Editor’s Note: Roddick is correct. McEnroe won his last Grand Slam singles title in 1984 at age 25.]
It just stops quickly and other people come along…
It’s the world’s best reality show, but there’s no guaranteed winner. You know, there’s nothing promised. You’re playing against the best in the world. There’s a litmus test where you lose a Wimbledon final against the best in the world, and you come back and people go why did you lose the Wimbledon final? It’s a weird thing to come to terms with. But that’s what makes sports fascinating. There’s no guarantees. You gotta go out and earn it every time.
Are you surprised that no American man has won a Grand Slam tournament since you?
I don’t know. I mean, it’s funny. If you look at it in the context of American tennis, yes. But we’ve been spoiled in the best possible way. And thankfully for the guys now I’ve left a much shorter shadow than Andre, Pete, Courier, Chang—the greatest generation ever. But it’s cyclical. I mean, before Murray won, Great Britain hadn’t won since Fred Perry in like the ’30s. And France—which is a massive tennis country, a lot of their pride in sport is derived from tennis—they haven’t won since Noah in ’83. So if you look at it compared to other countries, it’s not much of a drought.
But it’ll come again. The group that we have from 16 to 19 right now is as good as I’ve seen in 15 years. And I’m not the guy who tries to blow sunshine up anyone’s ass. It’s a really good group. I’m not going to call any of them out by name because I like the fact that there are six or seven of them, and I don’t want one to have to bear the load of it all.
That was going to be my next question. Can you predict who will be the next American man to win a Grand Slam tournament?
[Long pause] No. I think we actually have potential in this group to make that a realistic conversation, but as far as choosing the best when they’re 17, it’s impossible. That’s like looking at someone in their freshman year of college in NCAA basketball and saying, “This guy’s going to be a Hall of Famer.” How often does that work? Sometimes. But for every one of those, there’s Harold Miner.
Yeah exactly. Tough name. But I don’t know any of the kids well enough to know the last three percent that’s in their head. That’s where the divide is.
What’s your No. 1 tip for an average tennis player?
Swing slower and make more balls. You see guys come out and they’re trying to hit the shots that Roger hits and that Rafa [Nadal] hits. It’s literally like if you’re playing a basketball game and you’re pulling up from 32 feet. People come out and they just try to hit the shit out of the ball. They make one out of five and celebrate the one they make. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. So I’d say slow down, put the ball in the court, then progress.
“Could I take Serena Williams right now? Yes. Yes. I could and it’s not even something that would be offensive to her for me to say. I think she would tell you that much.”
When you’re watching a tennis match, is there anything that you focus on that most people miss? What’s the tennis equivalent of studying the offensive line in football?
Movement. You don’t see any slow guys in the top 10 anymore. Even if they’re 6’6”, they move really well. And if you watch old videos, that’s the thing that just screams at me. You used to be able to be a shot maker but a bit of a mannequin. But the thing that’s changed the last 15 years in tennis is the athleticism. You see the guys running, stopping, starting. Their movements are actually most comparable to basketball. Except it’s outside, it’s 110-degree heat, and it’s possibly for five hours. It’s insanity.
Could you take Serena Williams right now?
[Laughs] Yes. Yes. I could and it’s not even something that would be offensive to her for me to say. I think she would tell you that much.
Could you take Ronda Rousey in a fight?
No. No. No. I don’t think Rousey’s faking it when she says she wants to fight [Floyd] Mayweather. There’s a distinct difference between someone who knows how to fight and doesn’t know how to fight. I’m a big guy, but I’m distinctly in the corner of don’t know how to fight. And I fear anyone who knows how to fight.
OK, last question. You’ve done well with women over the years. Do you have a pickup line for guys that they should try?
Man, I’ve been with my wife [model and actress Brooklyn Decker] eight years. I don’t even know what happens now with Instagram and all this other shit. Like, I’m so far out of the game. I’m like the archaic old guy who forgot what he used to say. I’m a dinosaur as far as the dating world goes.