By Tim Casey
For several months after retiring from tennis following the 2012 U.S. Open, Andy Roddick took advantage of his freedom. He had no obligations for the first time in his life. He took trips. He went mountain biking. He hiked. Always the adventurous sort, he couldn't partake in any risky endeavors while playing for fear that he'd break his collarbone or sustain another injury.
Roddick had enough money and time on his hand to do anything he wanted. Still, he was only 30 years old and knew he had higher aspirations than traveling and lounging around.
The past year, Roddick has devoted himself to numerous ventures, all start-ups in nature. He became part-owner of World TeamTennis and helped launch a franchise in Austin, Texas, where he lives. He invested in and began promoting TravisMathew, a small apparel company that a former UCLA golfer founded a few years ago. He spent more time on his non-profit foundation that offers free after-school and summer programs for disadvantaged youths.
And, in his most high profile venture, Roddick has worked for Fox Sports 1 on its nightly "Fox Sports Live" show and in other roles. Still, his schedule going forward has not been finalized. He played in 10 World TeamTennis matches this month, and he could become more involved in the sport.
"I'm busier than I thought I would be," Roddick said on Monday night before playing in a World TeamTennis match at Villanova University. "I didn't know that there would be this many opportunities for a has-been tennis player."
Roddick's transition to television has gone better than expected. As a player, he was sometimes short and testy with reporters. After his first round victory in the 2011 U.S. Open, Roddick conducted an interview with ESPN's Chris Fowler, who mentioned several analysts had offered Roddick advice on how to play. Roddick, a mainstay in the top 10 for nearly a decade, was seeded 21st and coming off a strained oblique injury.
"I'm convinced being a tennis analyst is the easiest job in the world because whatever the person does, if it works, you just say that's what's good," Roddick told Fowler. "And if it doesn't work, you guys just go, 'You should have done the other thing.' I'm pretty convinced that I could be a tennis analyst when I'm done."
"Well, I know you could," Fowler said. "You could be a hell of a tennis analyst."
"Well, yeah, it doesn't take much thought," Roddick said. "If I'm grinding and I'm winning, you guys are like, 'He's re-invented himself.' But if I'm playing like crap and pushing then it's, 'He's horrible and needs to hit the ball.' Everyone's an expert, but I'm better than most of them have been."
A few months later, while still playing on the ATP Tour, Roddick started hosting a Fox Sports Radio show on Saturdays with friend Bobby Bones. After retiring, though, he had no intention of a full-time media career. He changed his mind last spring when Fox Sports 1 executives approached him about auditioning for a spot at the network prior to its August launch. During test shoots with other ex-athletes and analysts, Roddick's knowledge of numerous topics outside of tennis impressed the bosses. He fit in well with players from team sports and wasn't afraid to share his opinion.
"He's a sports nerd," Fox Sports Live executive producer Michael Hughes said. "That was something I don't know that I necessarily expected. I think an outside person sees a guy who's hosted Saturday Night Live, who's been the number one player in the world in his sport, who's married to a supermodel. They don't expect him to be spending multiple hours a day on his fantasy football team. I just found that to be a really interesting paradox."
On Fox Sports Live, Roddick has joined numerous ex-athletes such as quarterback Donovan McNabb and point guard Gary Payton, but Roddick may be the most impressive on camera. He is opinionated and articulate, but doesn't come across as disingenuous or unprepared. He credits Hughes and Fox Sports executive vice president Scott Ackerson for helping him adjust to his new career. He approaches his new job with the same work ethic as his old one.
"The day where I get stuck because I didn't read up on something is the day where I'll be really mad at myself," Roddick said. "If you know your numbers, you can navigate through most sports. I treat it like I would tennis when I played. I was very diligent about preparation."
This month, Roddick took time off of television to compete for the Austin Aces in World TeamTennis, the coed summer league Billie Jean King co-founded in 1974. Late last year, Roddick approached his friend and Canadian businessman Lorne Abony about getting involved in the league. Abony purchased the Orange County, Calif. team and moved it to Austin, where Abony had recently moved.
Despite the low-stakes and fun nature of World TeamTennis, Roddick still took the matches seriously. During the third game of his singles set on Monday night, he complained to the chair umpire after he thought a serve was wide. She didn't overrule the call. When Roddick trailed four games to three, he smacked a first serve down the middle that was called out.
"No!," he screamed.
This time, the umpire reversed the call, giving Roddick the ace. He ended up hurting his hamstring during the set and lost to Canadian Frank Dancevic in a tiebreaker. Later that night, he partnered with Treat Huey to win their doubles set and clinch Austin's victory.
"I thought he got better and better as the season went on," said Austin coach Rick Leach, who won five Grand Slam doubles titles and four Grand Slam mixed doubles titles from 1988 to 2000. "I think it's difficult in any sport to be out of the game for two years and then try to come back and play at the highest level. By the end of the season, I really thought he was playing great."
Roddick and fellow retired American Mardy Fish are considering playing in this year's U.S. Open doubles field, according to Leach. Still, Roddick hasn't indicated he plans on returning to the ATP Tour, although he still follows the sport closely. Since Roddick won the U.S. Open in 2003 as a 21-year-old, no man from the United States has won a Grand Slam singles title, the longest drought in history. John Isner, 12th in the most recent ATP Tour rankings, is the only American male in the top 50 in the world.
Asked on Monday about the state of men's tennis in the United States, Roddick expressed concern, but he also provided some perspective. He mentioned that unlike football, which is played almost exclusively in the United States, tennis is a global sport. He noted that a man from France hasn't won a Grand Slam singles title since Yannick Noah at the 1983 French Open and that Andy Murray last year became the first Wimbledon champion from England since Fred Perry in 1936.
"If you look at it, it's not nuts for this period of time to have gone past and it's not crazy for a strong tennis nation to have a valley," Roddick said. "Five years from now, I want us to be out of it. I care about it a lot. You don't want the valleys, but it's a process. That's why sports is the greatest reality show because you can't predict anything and no one's entitled to anything."
With his Fox Sports 1 job, Roddick has enjoyed branching out to other sports. Still, his favorite assignment occurred last August before the U.S. Open when he conducted an interview with former rival Roger Federer. Until they sat down in the studio, they had never discussed their head-to-head matches, including the legendary 2009 Wimbledon final that Federer won 16-14 in the fifth set. Roddick remembered a respectful Federer hugging and giving silent fist-bumps to his crew in the locker room while Roddick sat nearby crying after the loss.
"The moment is probably tougher for you than it was happier for me," said Federer, who has won a record 17 Grand Slam men's singles titles. "I think it's so important to respect your fellow athletes and competitors. I know how hard you've tried and how difficult it must be because unfortunately you just can't have it all. That match …"
"Well, you can," Roddick said, interrupting Federer. "You selfish bastard."
Both men laughed.
That exchange, which happened less than two weeks after Fox Sports 1's launch, showed Roddick's quick wit, versatility and comfort in front of the camera. Since then, he has conducted interviews with tennis star Serena Williams, actor and musician Justin Timberlake and then-Texas football coach Mack Brown last October when rumors indicated he could get fired. Besides offering his opinions on set, he's also hosted college football gambling segments and panels that included fellow ex-athletes. In late May, Roddick began co-hosting a Fox Sports Live podcast with Bill Reiter, a FoxSports.com columnist, on-air contributor and radio host.
Hughes said he's not sure about Roddick's upcoming schedule, but he's asked him numerous times if he has any desire to return to tennis. Roddick, who is currently on vacation, hasn't indicated he'll play again. Still, he is healthy and is only 32 years old, and he enjoyed the competitive nature of World TeamTennis.
"The trickiest thing is always going to be balancing what his quote-unquote retirement is and how much he wants to work," Hughes said. "We believe in him. We want to be in business with him. We think he's grown to the point of being someone whose opinion is informed, is interesting and can matter."
Now, it's up to Roddick to determine how much time he wants to devote to his media duties. Since arriving at Fox Sports 1 less than a year ago, he's impressed executives with his preparation and ability to talk about NBA trade chatter, Wimbledon or any other subject. For him, the most rewarding times are spent around other former stars.
"It's just fun getting different athletes from different sports and their perspective on things," Roddick said. "Best part of my job is watching football with Donovan [McNabb] or watching baseball with Frank Thomas. You learn so much just from doing that. It's been fun."
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Tim Casey is a freelance sports writer and a former Sacramento Bee sports reporter. He works for HMP Communications, a health care/medical media company.