In 2003, Andy Roddick won the U.S. Open Championship and claimed his Grand Slam title. The exuberant 21-year-old sank to his knees and shed tears before leaping the railing into the crowd, navigating his way through throngs of excited spectators to reach his loved ones, whom he embraced joyfully. He’d just beaten Juan Carlos Ferrero in straight sets. The announcer crowned Roddick “America’s next tennis hero.” That November, he became the world’s No. 1 ranked tennis player.
The 2012 U.S. Open brought different tears. A very emotional Roddick played his final match in the fourth round against Juan Martin del Porto; he’d announced his retirement from the sport days before, at a Sept. 2 news conference on his 30th birthday. Throughout the final volleys, Roddick clearly struggled with emotions. His post-match thanks—to his fans, family, and long-time agent Ken Meyerson, who’d passed away unexpectedly—were gracious and heartfelt. He’d given his justification for retirement earlier: “I think you’ve either got to be all in or not. That’s more kind of the way I’ve chosen to do things.”
When Roddick, 32, walks into a room, the first thing you notice is his size; at a lanky 6’2”, he has a commanding presence. The second is the connection he makes in conversation—while extremely cordial, his no-nonsense, frank gaze suggests a man with no patience for stupid questions or time wasting. He’s witty, with a fairly dry sense of humor, a quick laugh, and smart; add in his love for sports in general plus a penchant for practice and preparation, and Roddick makes an entertaining sports commentator. As co-host, he can be seen on Fox Sports Live (check out his Oct. 12 interview with Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo) and heard on Roddick & Reiter, a Fox Sports Live podcast.
“I do [the TV show] at night; the studio’s in Los Angeles,” said Roddick. “Last year, I split time. We’re doing more podcast, radio-type stuff now; hopefully, that will allow me to be here a bit more this year, as we’re going to be doing that from here.”
Roddick and his wife Brooklyn Decker, Sports Illustrated cover model and actress, do a fair amount of traveling for their careers, though there’s not much in the way of professional overlap. Roddick joked about his “role” in Decker’s first movie, Just Go with It. “Sandler put me in a scene…which is pretty much the best I could ever do,” he said with a sardonic grin. “’Acting?’ No—that requires a talent for it.” There are no speaking lines to that cameo appearance (he’s credited as “good-looking guy on plane”); Roddick has another silent role in a recent Chase Mobile App commercial. What speaks is his trademark serve, delivered while tennis great John McEnroe provides his trademark verbal volleys. It’s a clever play on each of the on-court personalities involved.
In the commercial, Roddick is shown paying his coach for “adding 5 mph” to his serve after winning the point. How exactly does the man whose serve was once clocked at a record-breaking* 155 mph (2004 Davis Cup) maintain that rocket launcher?
When training for the pro circuit, Roddick worked with Lance Hooten, his strength and conditioning coach here in Austin. According to an ESPN.com article, Larry Stefanki, Roddick’s last tennis coach, put him through grueling sessions that often included core work, drills, and 90 minutes of interval runs after four hours on the court. Now, Roddick makes a distinction between “training” and “working out.”
“I’m not in the business of testing limits anymore,” he said. “If I was working out and somehow went hard enough that I got to the point where I couldn’t do things I enjoy, like tennis and golf, I’d be pretty upset with myself. It’s easier now. My body used to hurt a lot; frankly, my shoulder was a bit of a disaster when I stopped. Just from letting it heal and not stressing it every day, it’s better now. I had a couple of small tears, and they seemed to just have healed naturally from the rest.”
This is not to say that Roddick is no longer playing tennis competitively. The upcoming 2015 season will be his eighth year with Mylan World Team Tennis and second season as part of the new Austin Aces, and that does require some more training-oriented exercise. “Going into the season, I have to start serving a couple of months before to make sure my shoulder is still in shape,” he explained. “As opposed to building, you kind of try to do enough to avoid serious injury and get by.” He reflected that, last year, “I don’t know that I did enough serves going into the [Austin Aces] season. Lesson learned.”
That lesson provides motivation. Much like everyday exercisers, Roddick worries about appearing out of shape on court as a result of this lesser emphasis on training. “It is a weird thing,” he said. “You don’t want to go out to these tennis expos and embarrass yourself as the guy who’s retired and can’t run anymore…that’s kind of the way I keep myself honest.”
These days, Roddick’s primary exercise is running. Like many, he finds it “the easiest way to keep weight down” and he enjoys what he refers to as “that selfish time.” Typically, he’s going solo—he explained that Decker doesn’t like working out with him: “She gets annoyed if we’re running and I run ahead. She likes her own time.”
The two often start out together at Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, covering the 2.5 miles of trails separately and meeting at the end. Roddick also enjoys logging miles on the Roy and Ann Butler Hike and Bike Trail around Lady Bird Lake and running on area tracks, all part of what he calls the “context of fitness in Austin.”
Roddick and Decker first settled down in a place overlooking Lake Austin. Though he was born in Nebraska and lived as a teenager in Boca Raton, Fla., the Roddick family lived here from 1986–1993. “Austin was always home. The day after I won the U.S. Open, I came back here to find a place to live,” Roddick reminisced. “There’s a million great things about Austin—you don’t find someone who’s from here who’s not proud of where they live. You just don’t find that other places.”
In 2013, the couple sold their waterfront 1.8-acre property and relocated on land nestled among cedar and live oaks with what can only be described as “Hill Country-beautiful” sweeping views. There’s an easy indoor-outdoor vibe to the Texas stone and wood home, with its native landscaping and backyard patios that sported remnants of recent get-togethers (pool toys, lounge chairs grouped around a fire pit, candles on the table near the outdoor TV).
“We’re kind of out here in the boonies,” Roddick said. “It’s great, though. We love being outside—sitting inside and watching TV all day is not for us. We like getting outside.”
In the garage, there’s a Tesla (“it was my plan to drive it, until my wife stole it”) and an old Bronco (Decker’s first car). The couple enjoys good food—they’ve been spotted at Uchi, and a “makeup-free date night” Twitter photo shows Decker savoring a cup from Amy’s Ice Creams. The svelte model is credited with helping Roddick clean up his diet; in 2008, after they were engaged, he dropped some 15 pounds before the Australian Open and the loss helped him to his biggest win in four years, beating second seed Rafael Nadal. Roddick pointed out that maturity has also helped with his approach to food.
“When I was 19 or 20, I was pretty basic in what I liked,” he said. The more the young Roddick travelled for tennis, the more exposed he was to variety and, as a result, the more open he became to healthier food. He’s not so much a believer in restrictive diets as a way to maintain playing weight. “I’m probably less disciplined than when I was playing, but I’m still extremely conscious [about what I eat]. I try to do everything in moderation,” Roddick said. “I think one of the good things about retiring is I don’t have to not eat things now—I just don’t go overboard about it.” He added with a wry smile, “I eat less now than when I was playing; I had to learn that lesson, though.”
While Roddick chats, two bulldogs—Billie Jean King and Bob Costas—romp around the house and yard, stealing belly rubs when possible. Roddick and the human Billie Jean King became friends through their charitable work; King was instrumental in the Mylan World Team Tennis formation in the 1970s, and Roddick is now part of the league’s owners group. She also sits on the board of Roddick’s charitable organization, the Andy Roddick Foundation (ARF). According to Roddick, King loves coming to Austin. “It’s been pretty fun developing this relationship with her, based on her history and track record in philanthropy, rights issues—it’s been one of those surreal things,” he said. “When you’re 17, 18, you don’t think that’s a realistic scenario, that you’re having conversations with Billie Jean King regularly.”
However impressive Roddick’s tennis opponents might have found him, the children at Pecan Springs Elementary are impressed for an entirely different reason. They know him as “Mr. Andy Roddick Foundation,” that guy who will get down on the floor or out on the playground and have fun with them.
Since his retirement from professional tennis in 2012, Roddick has devoted a large portion of his time to ARF. Some advice from Andre Agassi in 2000 provided the necessary spark of inspiration.
“When I was young, I was lucky enough to practice with [Agassi] a lot. Coming back on a flight one time, I was being pretty quiet—which is kind of a rarity for me,” Roddick recalled with a laugh. “I asked him what his biggest regret was, and he said he didn’t start his foundation early enough. That really took hold with me.” That first fall, ARF raised “about $3,000, and we thought that was the greatest thing ever.” Now, stars such as Elton John (a good friend and ardent tennis fan), Jimmy Buffett, Lionel Richie, and John Legend are providing musical entertainment and “a million bucks a night” are raised—in Roddick’s words, “that’s a pretty cool progression.” This year’s event at the Austin City Limits Moody Theater featured musician Darius Rucker and journalist Whitney Casey. The foundation also holds a golf weekend fundraiser, which includes a tournament and party, in the early spring. So far, ARF has raised more than $11 million to fund its programs and grants.
The students at Pecan Springs see ARF as the source for fun, fitness, and learning through the new summer initiative and this year’s after-school program. “We wanted to make sure that students have a healthy framework for learning that lasts the rest of their lives,” said program director Mary Riggs. As per ARF’s mission, they are providing the opportunities that Roddick feels are so important to success.
“There was a real transition with staff when Andy retired,” said Holly Krivokapich, ARF’s director of individual giving. ARF shifted from its Boca Raton location to Austin that same year, moving into a new physical site on East M.L.K. Blvd., very near Pecan Springs Elementary. It’s a school in need; 97 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged, which means they qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and other public benefits. Riggs pointed out that the parents and school staff provide great support, and so ARF focused this summer on bringing its first summer learning to 77 students, from kindergarten to grade 5. During the five-week program, students combined academics with sports and arts, participating in 2.5 hours of physical activity and at least 30 minutes of reading daily. Roddick came out to hit balls, and Decker joined students for the performing arts week, when the kids made Claymation videos. One little boy’s favorite activity: “I liked the trip to the Capitol. It was my first time to go, and I liked learning about the statue.”
“This program has been a blessing; it’s provided our scholars with so many wonderful opportunities,” said principal Elaine McKinney. She referenced the academic carryover she’d seen; students who participated in the summer program rolled over into the after-school program to help with familiarity and retention. P.E. coach Kim Young, who was overseeing the after-school group going through boot camp exercises in the school’s gym, said she’s already seen changes. “Some kids were challenges,” she said. “They’ve come back from the summer program and made improvements in behavior, and many show that they’re in better physical shape, too, more conditioned.” One little boy, who was painting with the arts group, couldn’t answer what he’d enjoyed most—“I’ve done so many fun things today, I can’t even remember.” In addition to the fun and exercise, students in the program have daily, quality supervision for those three hours as well as homework help, 20 minutes of reading, and a full meal.
Roddick was recently on campus, handing out certificates to students, who McKinney said are still proudly wearing the tie-dyed shirts they made for summer field trips with the program. He spoke passionately about what ARF is accomplishing and wants Austin to do more than simply pass along funds. “It’s great to go to an event; the musical part [of the ARF gala] is great, but get to know what you’re supporting,” Roddick said earnestly. “We’ve got an open door policy; if you want to come check it out, just call over to the foundation or visit the website. We’re happy to show off. [It’s important to] let people know what we’re looking at so it’s not just a check written.”
Riggs summed the man up: “Andy has a huge heart and a great mind, and he has real dedication.” Whether promoting his various social rights and philanthropic interests, talking about sports, bringing team tennis to fans all over America, or hitting balls with 5th graders, he’s not sitting back on his laurels during retirement—Roddick’s all in for making meaning out of the rest of his life.