Let’s start by saying that Andy Roddick is, unqualifiedly, an asset to tennis. He’s bright. He’s often funny. He’s charitable. He’s gone about his career in a professional manner and surrounded himself with good people. A decade into this drill, seven years removed from his last Grand Slam title, he’s still in the top 10.
Which is why his regrettable mid-match habit of humiliating officials is especially mystifying. Why undermine what is otherwise a thoroughly professional approach with these petty and bullying displays? He’s better than this.
My inbox suggests you already know this. But before Roddick lost to Janko Tipsarevic in a fun match last night, he lost his cool after being called for a foot fault. He didn’t disagree with the call, mind you. It was that the judge had the temerity to confuse which foot had trespassed the line. Roddick spent the better part of the next 10 minutes carrying on at the poor woman’s expense. Her job is to get the call right — which she did. If she choked answering the prosecuting attorney’s question (in front of 20,000 fans and a live worldwide television audience) forgive her. But we’ve seen this movie before: The more Roddick spoke, the angrier he got, and full games later, he still hadn’t let it go. Apart from being humiliated, she was relieved of her post. Watch for yourself:
A few points here. This applies to all players and not just Roddick, but there’s something particularly cowardly about haranguing these officials. Unlike the chair umpires, these folks are trained not to engage with players. Like Buckingham Palace guards, they’re under orders not to shift their gaze. Jousting with them is akin to punching something with their arms tied behind their back. If this were a fair fight, she might have responded, “Listen, pal. Here’s a crazy idea: how about you spend less time on this ridiculous semantic discussion and more time figuring out that you need to play more aggressively, especially on your returns?” But, duty-bound to silence, this woman — who no doubt had friends and family watching — had to sit there and take a beating.
Full disclosure: I had dinner in the city and saw the end of the match on television. It struck me that ESPN — which not unlike Roddick, does fine work and is an asset to tennis but isn’t above criticism — got burned by its conflicts of interest. As we saw with Serena-gate last year, the notion John McEnroe offering measured analysis of a player-official conflict is absurd. So much so that he turns it into a self-referential joke. Patrick McEnroe, who owes much of his Davis Cup success to Roddick (and has even spent time in Roddick coach box), was in a compromised position. The third man on the broadcast last night? Brad Gilbert, who, of course was Roddick’s former coach. To his credit, Gilbert expressed surprise that Roddick wasn’t given a warning by the chair umpire.
But instead of criticism or a suggestion that this ugly behavior is beneath Roddick, the discussion veered awkwardly into a ruminations on whether the challenge system should exist for foot faults (it should!) or whether Roddick was, in the manner of Gene Hackman, demanding to get ejected from sidelines in Hoosiers, using this artificial dispute for “energy.” Even if this were the game plan, is there not something unseemly about calling out courtside figures — who, again, strive to their job in anonymity — and using them as patsies for your uninspired play?
As with Serena, one unfortunate incident doesn’t nullify a career. We’ve all had bad days at the office. On balance, Roddick is a force of good. But if other, lesser players, had behaved like that they would have been called out. Roddick should be, too.