Andy Roddick’s TV career is based in Los Angeles and his return to tennis has brought him to his hometown of Austin, Texas.
So why is he journeying to New Haven next month? All it took was a text message from James Blake to bring the former No. 1 player in the world to the Connecticut Tennis Center.
“The biggest factor was my friendship with James,” Roddick told The Courant Tuesday.
Roddick, who retired in 2012, will face Blake in a men’s legend exhibition match the night of Aug. 21 at the Connecticut Open. Blake, of Fairfield, will also face Jim Courier Aug. 20.
Bringing Blake back to play is not surprising. When the New Haven event featured men from 2005 to 2010, Blake was a two-time winner and embraced his role as the face of the tournament.
But securing Roddick is something of a coup for the tournament, a women’s event that was rebranded after being purchased by the state last year. Roddick, 31, never played in New Haven and has no connection to the tournament, other than a strong friendship with Blake.
“I was pretty strict with my schedule,” Roddick said. “I played a lot of the same events. James was always kind of the headliner at [New Haven]. I guess we kind of chose different schedules in the summer. I just didn’t make it out there.”
But Roddick was receptive to playing this year as he begins his return to the court, albeit at much less competitive level. He retired after the U.S. Open in 2012, walking away just a few days after turning 30.
He spent last year away from the court, stepping into his new role as a panelist on Fox Sports Live, the nightly flagship show on the fledgling Fox Sports 1. He offers opinions on all sports, rather than simply pontificating about tennis.
This year, he returned to the court with the Austin franchise in World Team Tennis. He played seven matches in eight nights over the past week and will be playing more matches before the season ends July 23.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Roddick said. “It’s a process. My first night out there was pretty average. But it’s been getting better. I’ve won more matches than I’ve lost, which is a good sign. I mean, you’re getting these guys coming straight back from Wimbledon. I’m off the couch playing them. It’s been getting better every night and I’m actually at the point where I feel like I’m playing decently, better than I expected, anyways.”
Roddick was an elite junior player who became the No. 1 player in the world at age 21. He won the U.S. Open in 2003 and was consistently among the top players during his career.
But injuries took a toll and his ranking was slipping before he retired. Famous for his intensity and passion, he was ready to exhale.
“Frankly, in the first year away, I think was so exhausted,” Roddick said. “Tennis wasn’t something I did, it was something I lived. So that first year, I was kind of happy to not be on the court and do some other things. Even small things like planning trips with friends that you couldn’t always do because your schedule was always dominated by what you’re going to play.”
But retirement has been easier than Roddick expected. Yes, he has missed the competition and lifestyle, but transitioning to a stable home life with wife Brooklyn Decker, a model and actress, has been seamless.
“I always had a home life,” Roddick said. “Some of the guys, if you give them a week off [from playing], they don’t know what to do with themselves.”
Roddick has occupied his time with Fox Sports 1 and his foundation. This year, there’s tennis in Austin and his match in New Haven.
“If there was a lack of opportunity, there would have been a more noticeable void or at least I would have been conscious of that,” Roddick said. “But luckily, the market for a has-been tennis player has been good so far.”
Roddick said he works out, but he doesn’t train as he did as a competitive player. He concedes he’ll never be in that kind of shape again, so there will be shoulder and back pain after his matches.
But the competitive juices still flow and these brief forays onto the court do scratch that itch.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Roddick said. “It’s nice to be able to play something like team tennis and the event in New Haven. It’s kind of a smaller sample size of being competitive, still. I don’t think you ever get over that. We’ve been training since we were kids, in that space. It’s a nice way to stay connected to that feeling.”
One thing is clear from Roddick’s TV work — he’s good at his new gig. Roddick was always glib and witty at the podium during his playing career and he’s been smooth talking about all sports on Fox.
Roddick figured he might have media opportunities, but he wasn’t interested in jumping in as a tennis analyst.
“If I was going to travel and do all that stuff, I would play,” Roddick said.
He had done a weekly national radio show during the past two years of his playing career and he loved talking sports. Now, he chats with the likes of Donovan McNabb, Gabe Kapler and Gary Payton about various subjects.
“To get the opportunity I’ve had at Fox, being a tennis guy, on a national nightly show, talking about all sports, it was just something I hadn’t planned,” Roddick said. “It’s a great opportunity. I think my bosses at Fox probably knew I wanted to do it before I did. So when opportunity knocks, you answer the door. I’ve enjoyed it.”
Play The Best
The tournament is offering fans an opportunity to participate in a Pro-Am with Roddick, Blake and Courier before the matches or to participate in a party complete with dinner and a “meet and greet.” For information, visit ctopen.org. … The tournament runs Aug. 14-23. Tickets are available on ctopen.org or by calling 1-855-464-8366.