Somehow, not seeking the impossible has made the loss easier to bear.
“I think I’ve had an easier transition into retirement because I expected it to be difficult,” Roddick said last week. “I expected to miss Wimbledon when I watched it. I expected it to stir up emotions. I think it’s foolish to think that if you’ve done something for so long, you can kind of delete it out of your memory bank or delete every emotion attached to it. I knew when I retired what that meant.”
So Roddick has accepted the void and moved on, just as he did in his playing days. For 12 years on the pro circuit, Roddick railed against himself after some defeats and wept over others. But he always got back to work.
The workplace shifts next week.
That’s when Roddick, 30, will launch into rehearsals for “Fox Sports Live,” a three-hour show that he’ll co-host each weeknight from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. Eastern time on Fox Sports 1, the new cable network that is envisioned as an alternative to ESPN.
Roddick is expected to share hosting duties with Charissa Thompson and weigh in on the full range of sports. Canadian broadcasters Dan O’Toole and Jay Onrait will lead the highlight portion of the show, which will debut Aug. 17.
Perhaps it was inevitable that a tennis player with two English bulldogs named Billie Jean and Bob Costas would follow life on the pro tour with a broadcasting gig.
It surely seems fitting that Roddick, whose career was defined by long-odds battles with the peerless Roger Federer, will be the most famous face of a show that industry insiders characterize as a challenger to ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” the standard-bearer in sports broadcasting.
Scott Ackerson, executive vice president of studio production for Fox Sports, said he was drawn to Roddick as a potential on-air personality because of the candor and smarts he displayed as co-host of a syndicated weekly radio show, “Roddick and Bones,” during the last 18 months of his tennis career.
“It never seemed like he was trying to BS anybody,” Ackerson said. “That’s something I find refreshing.”
Roddick never realized he was auditioning for anything via “Roddick and Bones,” the radio show with longtime friend Bobby Bones. But it was the best possible preparation.
“We never really talked tennis,” Roddick said of the nationally syndicated radio show. “It was great for me as a training tool. I learned how to work a show clock and do the show prep and research. I had no experience, just a 20-minute meeting. They said go for it and put me on.”
After retiring from tennis, he met with Fox officials about other broadcast possibilities.
Among those tossed out was a role on a New York-based sports vehicle being planned for Regis Philbin. It was a non-starter, Roddick said, because he needed to be in Los Angeles with his wife, Brooklyn Decker, who had just landed a role in a CBS sitcom, “Friends with Better Lives.”
“She followed me around this tennis tour for so long, there’s no chance that my second career is going to take priority over her career at this point,” Roddick explained in an interview last week.
In the end, “Fox Sports Live” seemed the best fit.
Says Ackerson: “What Andy is going to bring to the show is somebody who has been in the arena a very short time ago, who is intelligent, never was afraid to say exactly what he thought. . . . I don’t believe Andy is going to be an athlete’s apologist. If I thought that, I wouldn’t have wanted him.”
He adds that Roddick’s approach to tennis was the ultimate job referral.
“One thing you can say about him: He wasn’t afraid of hard work,” Ackerson says. “That tells me that this is an individual who, when he puts his mind and effort into something, is going to work extremely hard at it. If he does his homework, I don’t see any reason why he can’t be a major player in the sports-television business for the next 20, 30 years.”
Hard work was at the core of Roddick’s game. While other players were more gifted, few wrung more of the gifts he was given than Roddick.
He had just turned 21 when he won the 2003 U.S. Open. He reached the world No. 1 ranking two months later but was supplanted nine weeks later by Federer. Roddick reached the finals of Wimbledon three times (2004, 2005 and 2009) and repeated as a U.S. Open finalist in 2006. At every turn, he was defeated by Federer.
Roddick responded by working harder. With rivals figuring out how to keep his cannonball blast of a serve in play, he tried adding variety to his ground game. He developed a slice and shored up his backhand. He sharpened his volley and overcame his aversion to coming to the net. He shed weight to improve his foot speed. But while his effort was all-out, the gains were incremental.
Says former pro Mary Carillo, a veteran tennis analyst: “Here’s what I’ll remember about Andy’s career: He won the U.S. Open at 21, became number one in the world and spent the rest of his career trying to improve. I admire that.”
Tennis no longer dictates Roddick’s daily life.
He says he played three times between mid-September and early July, when he dusted off his racket to prepare for the World Team Tennis season. He became a minority partner in the co-ed league in May. He’s heavily involved with the Austin-based foundation that bears his name, which has raised more than $11 million for charity. He spends what free time remains on golf, competing at this year’s Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
But next week, it’s back to full-time work.
Roddick is hardly the first sporting champion to make the leap to broadcasting, but he’s among the few to land a job commenting on all sports rather than simply his own.
Like Ackerson, Carillo suspects he’ll thrive.
“Through his ups and downs, Andy was almost always a good talker,” Carillo says. “He enjoyed the spotlight and accepted the pressure and responsibility of his standing. He was bright and quick, even when he was grumpy and disappointed. He has the heart and mind of a true jock and the smarts to translate that to an audience. All of which is to say, this guy will be a good listen.”