In the latest episode of #NoFilter, host Danielle Snyder talks to former world No.1 tennis champion Andy Roddick. In an intimate and wide-ranging conversation, they discuss his professional legacy, friendships with Roger Federer and Andre Agassi, what he learned from his father about being a dad and his near-decade-long marriage to Brooklyn Decker, who was interviewed by Danielle on a previous episode of the podcast.
By Danielle Snyder
Andy Roddick with Danielle Snyder during their recording session in the Dannijo showroom.
On the first time he attended the US Open.
I came to Flushing Meadows to watch the [US] Open for the first time in 1991 with my mom and sat in the rafters and watched Jimmy Connors and his crazy run when he was a million years old. To try to connect that version of myself with the version that was getting inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, [which] you get to share forever with the people that you idolize is pretty cool.
On his father.
My dad was tough. He was running the family farm when he was 13, and going to school — he was from this small town of Platteville, Wisconsin, a self-made guy.
He didn’t push me in tennis, I think he just pushed me. It could have been a distance-spitting competition, he would have been like, spit further! … There wasn’t any animosity, but it was tough, he was like, if you’re going to choose something, you do it 100% or just don’t do it.
I think the thing that I probably should have talked to him more about while he was still living was that he was way more interested in the long view of respect and didn’t need to be liked by me in a given moment. That’s a hard thing to do as a parent. Now I’m like, I want my son to be obsessed with me all the time.
The thing I’ve always said is that my grandfather, who I didn’t know, was brutal … so I always say if I improve as much over my father as he did over his, we’re gonna be fine. I think he did the absolute best he could. With what he was shown, what he was given, with the emotions that his father gave to him. Looking back, I don’t think he could have done any better than he did.
On his on-court looks.
I had some bad ones, I had some really bad ones. The worst look ever? I wore a visor with spiky hair poking through. I caught so much crap for it … but time passes, and people forget about what their actual opinion was, now they’re like, “Oh man, remember when he rocked the visor? That was cool!”
The worst look ever? I wore a visor with spiky hair poking through.
Think about Serena in the catsuit. People came out like, “Oh my God, that’s insane,” but now it’s 15 years on, [and people are like], “Wasn’t that badass when she wore the catsuit?” So the rear-view always looks a little bit better, a little cooler.
[Former sponsor Reebok] brought back the original Pumps one year at the US Open … I had these blue Reebok Pumps on, and everybody was like, oh my God, I haven’t seen those in 15 years! Since the 80s or early 90s. So that was cool.
On Andre Agassi’s 2009 memoir ‘Open’.
I loved it cause it was raw. I was actually sent the book by Andre two months before [it was published]. He was like a mentor to me, but I knew Andre 2.0, I didn’t know like, the tough years of Andre. I only met him in, was it 2000 maybe? Those two years he used me as a practice partner … he’d come in, we’d train for 10 days at a time, but he was a doting husband, and then his kids were born, so I never knew this other Andre.
I think he put it out there not knowing what the reaction would be. [He said,] “I didn’t want you to be blindsided by people asking you about my drug use if you hadn’t read it and didn’t know what the actual subject matter was.”
On Roger Federer stating that “tennis is cruel”, after beating Roddick in 2009’s four-hour Wimbledon final.
You’ve probably met people who are heroes to you and been disappointed. [Roger is] as advertised. He’s what you would want him to be. He’s the guy who won 20 Grand Slam titles, comes in sweaty, lays on a training table, stretches out, and cleans the table afterwards. Things like that. He does little things, he remembers locker room attendants’ names when he walks in at every place he goes.
Andy with Roger Federer after 2009’s four-hour Wimbledon final, a day he describes as his worst in tennis. Source: Flickr/Dees Chinniah
That was a tough day. Thinking about my worst day in tennis, let’s call it that day. It ended with the Centre Court crowd at Wimbledon chanting my name in a show of respect, and I make a lot of money doing it, so it ended up being a net win as far as relationships made, and I think people understood me a little bit more after that match, but it is cruel. I woke up for however long afterward feeling like I got punched in the stomach.
[Tennis is] cruel yes, in someone’s own personal, selfish orbit, like the worst thing that happened to me was losing to the best player of all time in the Wimbledon final and having people like and respect you more for it afterwards. It’s cruel, but there are worse things on earth.
On his place among the greatest tennis players of all time.
There’s a couple of tiers of players: there’s the all-time icon legends, which is who we’re talking about with Roger and Rafa[el Nadal]and Venus and Serena [Williams], and [Novak] Djokovic is in that realm, and then there’s the really, really, really good players — I think that’s kind of where I was. I think there was an extreme talent divide. I couldn’t do things with a racket that Roger and Rafa can do, so I tried to at least trim the margins with work, with diligence. I tried to control the controllables. I wasn’t obsessed with being as talented as Roger because that was just not gonna happen. I just tried to control what I could control.
I don’t have any bitterness about [being part of this] generation — people try to give me that out a lot — if it wasn’t that generation, it would have been [Andre] Agassi and [Pete] Sampras, or [John] McEnroe and [Jimmy] Connors.
I think the greats rise no matter what generation you’re in. Djokovic is in the same generation [as me], he came in the prime of Roger-Rafa, and he just became good enough to beat ‘em.
On family life and his wife of almost a decade, Brooklyn Decker.
I think we’ve grown together. Seeing her go from young person who I met, to this insane businesswoman who does it all, and still acts, and is still a mother, and does it in four different cities, and somehow juggles it all but then still has the papers for school filled out on time and lunch made every day, it’s just… She’s like Wonderwoman, she’s insane.
With wife Brooklyn Decker, their son Hank, three, and baby daughter Stevie. Source: Instagram/@BrooklynDecker
I think she had to adjust a little bit to make the early years of our marriage work, which is not easy. I remember we’d go five weeks without seeing each other, so it was really hard. [Now] I can do everything I need to do from a phone, or over Facetime so I’m thankful that we walk around with our offices in our pockets.
My mom is great, Brook[lyn]’s parents are great — Hank is with them on their farm this weekend for three days — so without an unbelievable supporting cast who are all-in on our children, it would fall apart.
But yeah, I don’t travel, I don’t need to do much now, I do everything I need to do. I think time-management becomes important at a certain point, but yeah, she’s gotta go dominate.
On the time three-year-old son Hank refused to believe he was a tennis player.
I had to play an old dude event in Winston Salem, North Carolina, a little mountain town we spend some time in, and I was telling Hank I wasn’t going to be there the next day and to be good for Mommy and all that stuff, and he goes, “Where are you going?” I’m like, “I guess I have to work.” And so he goes, “Well, what are you doing?” And I was like, “I have to go play tennis.” “Why?” And I go, “Well, I used to be a tennis player, people still want to see it sometimes,” and he looks at me and goes, “No you didn’t!”
I want to get rid of instant replay, cause no one argues anymore.
On why young people are losing interest in tennis.
I’m in the extreme minority in the tennis world, I want to get rid of instant replay cause no one argues anymore. You asked me about Nick Kyrgios because he throws fits and argues with people. I get asked about John McEnroe, I get asked about Connors.
Tennis is weird, there’s no home team, you can’t count on everyone from Dallas going to Cowboys games, so it does rely on individual personalities. I would get rid of instant replay and bring in a human element. I got screwed in a line call in the ‘01 US Open when I was 18 turning 19 and I don’t know if I would have gotten through that match, [but] it certainly expedited the process of me losing the match. I went nuts. Lost my stuff, went yelling at the umpire, going crazy, and then all of a sudden, you’re famous a week later. So, I didn’t realize it in the moment, but I think you have to bring out big personalities in tennis. Young kids are obsessed with Nick Kyrgios. And I don’t think it’s a great thing cause there’s a million things that he does that I wouldn’t want my kids to do, but he generates eyeballs, he generates interest.
On the times he was totally star-struck.
My all-time favorite baseball player growing up — I had every card of his, I was obsessed with him — was Cal Ripken Jr from Baltimore. I played an exhibition in Baltimore against Andre, I was probably like, 19 or something, it was during the off season, and I walk into the locker room after the match and take off my shirt, and I’m doing what you do in a locker room, and I hear a voice, and it goes, “Oh man, I’m sorry I’ll get out of here,” and I’m like, “Oh yeah, no worries man.” I turn around and I’m like, [shocked face] Cal Ripken Jr! I’m like, “Oh no, no, no, let me do this and then I want some time with you!”
I was playing golf in Florida one time — I was down there with James Blake and Mardy Fish — and I left a club on a previous hole. So I went back to get it, and I see this guy walking down with my club in his hand, and I just stopped in my tracks. It was Michael Jordan. And he goes, “You left a club, AR.” I think I actually said the words: “Thank you Michael Jordan.” I talked to him afterwards and then I was a little more composed, but I had that nerdy moment when I felt like I got slapped in the face.
Andy with some of the kids he supports through the Andy Roddick Foundation. Source: Twitter/@theARFoundation
On social media and why he prefers Twitter to Instagram.
The honest answer is that having a Twitter handle and having some followers is good for business, like when you’re negotiating something, and they say OK, but we want you to plug it on Twitter. I think you have to have some sort of presence, but I’m not a social media person. I recognize the value in it — I don’t really go to tennis tournaments much, I go to the US Open for two days every year to do some corporate things — so for me it’s nice, cause you build up fans and you have these relationships forever, and it’s the easiest thing, you can check in, you can have opinions, you can have interactions, I’m really happy to have it, I just don’t want all of it.
I’m the least artistic person you will ever talk to in your life. I just don’t have it … and so Instagram, I don’t know what the hell I’m going to put. With Twitter it’s like, OK, it’s words, some banter, that makes sense to me.
On future-proofing his foundation.
I had a very interesting conversation with a friend of mine in 2011, and at that point I thought I was three years away from retiring — it ended up being a year — one of my oldest friends named Jeff Lau, he works at Google now, he was like … People are coming to [fundraising galas] because you can attract talent, you’re kind of relevant right now. What does 10 years look like? Does it stop? You’re on a year-to-year situation right now. I was pissed when I left dinner, and then I woke up the next morning and I was really pissed because I realized he was right. You have important conversations in your life and this was one of them.
[Today,] we focus on out-of-school time spaces, so after school summer programs for lower socio-economic areas in Austin, Texas, focusing on things like financial literacy, tech literacy … We run programs in three different schools, 250 kids in each place. We run 11 different sites for Austin Parks and Recreation, we served over 3,000 kids this summer, and we think we can keep expanding. We have 12 full-time employees, a volunteer base in the hundreds. Our board is unbelievable, it’s former execs from Dell and people who have been crazy successful, so it’s this great thing because we’re doing really, really, really good work that I’m very proud of, and selfishly I’m getting a free education because I get to sit in a room with these amazing board members hearing them problem solve. It’s been amazing for me personally to see this thing grow and have a vision, and it’s actually working. It’s been the project of a lifetime, it’s been awesome.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.