What It’s Like Playing Tennis Against Andy Roddick

Facing down a 115 mile-per-hour serve coming off the racquet of Andy Roddick is one hell of an experience. Doing it on the Billie Jean King courts a few hours before the doubles and women’s finals of the U.S. Open makes it otherworldly.

That’s precisely what Marriott and SPG Moments afforded me, though. Through its Master Class program, mere mortals—AKA points members—can purchase the opportunity to step on the storied court and square off against a tennis God like Roddick for an hour and a half.

Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

The day started at 7:30 AM with what appeared to be a bad omen: rain. Nine of us (and seven significant others) waited outside courts near Arthur Ashe as Roddick completed an interview with Good Morning America. There was definitely concern among the participants as pellets of rain greased up the hard courts that we were supposed to play on. At the conclusion of the interview, Roddick joined us under the protective awning and introduced himself. Jovial and polite, his addressed the inclimate weather as he inspected our tennis—and in at least one case, non-tennis—shoes.

As I began to resign myself to the likely cancellation of the Master Class, and wondered at what time the Emirates Bar might open, the head pro announced that we were all relocating to the main court at Louis Armstrong Stadium.

“I’m excited,” Roddick remarked as we strolled over. “This will be my first time playing on the court at the brand new stadium,” constructed just in time for the 2018 U.S. Open. Imagine how we felt. I’m not a big picture-taker but entering the court through the players’ entrance and looking up at the 14,000 surrounding seats surrounding was decidedly a Kodak moment. Not to mention, sitting in the courtside players chairs where Del Potro, Keys, and Wawrinka sat only days before was immensely cool.


image

Marriott SPG

When the awe subsided, the nerves rose. While I play tennis very regularly, getting up before dawn most mornings to practice with coaches and fellow amateurs, at no point did I even flirt with the idea of winning a single point against the tennis hall of famer; I just really didn’t want to suck.

Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

I glanced around sizing up our group and trying to determine experience levels. Our field was comprised of another press guy, three middle-aged men, two middle-aged women, a young woman, and a young girl who appeared to be in high school, who was a league of her own. She actually looked like she belonged on a court with Roddick. He was a bit easier on the rest of us than he was with her which was a true indication of the respect he had for her skills.

Two of the middle-aged men were accomplished players. One told me he had played in high school and college and his wife used her Starwood points to get him into the clinic. The two of them left their three kids with a nanny and flew from California for today. In preparation, he had been practicing for a few weeks and he was absolutely as giddy as I was.

Finally, my turn came.

What was it like? Fun. A helluva lot of fun. Clinics can be a grind. They are methodical, repetitive, exhausting, and often times not fun. Roddick later admitted, “I know participants just want to play. Tips and technique coaching are great, but just getting out there and hitting is what everyone is looking for.” And it’s what Roddick and SPG Moments were able to deliver.


image

Marriott SPG

Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

Roddick truly delighted in every point played. He was noticeably engaged and vocal on both the points he won and the unforced errors he occasionally committed. It was evident that he still enjoys the game, even if played with players vastly inferior.

At one point, we played a doubles game in which I was paired with Roddick. A ball was heading out and Roddick shouted for me to, “Play it!” I heard him too late, let the ball sail out of bounds and apologized. “All good,” he smiled. “I wanted you to play it because the guy who hit it long seemed frustrated and I want him to have a good experience and that means hitting more balls.”

The highlight of the experience for me—it’s hard to pick just one—was when Roddick delivered one of his signature serves to me. I saw him start the service motion and then I got hit in the hand by the ball. I do not recall ever actually seeing the ball in between. Roddick later mentioned to another participant that he was serving at around 115 mph; he had taken his foot off the gas for us, since his top serves crest 155 mph. Nevertheless, not a lot of people can say they have been on the receiving end of a Roddick serve. I now can.

The clinic ended after the allotted hour was up, though I suspect Roddick would have kept playing if given the opportunity. However, the Open was still in full swing and a match was scheduled to be played on the Louis Armstrong court later that morning so reality set in, and we had to clear out. Instead of retiring to a corner and checking his cell phone, Roddick grabbed his racquet and helped us pick up balls.

For anyone who has participated in a tennis clinic or taken a private lesson, there is always the ending ritual of picking up balls. It is that time of introspection when you replay every shot in your head, recall every missed opportunity and unforced error. And while I doubt there was anything Roddick needed to unpack about his play that morning, it was nice to see that he willing to be part of a ritual that I am sure he has participated in since he was a kid.

Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

image

Marriott SPG

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*