The former world No. 1-ranked tennis player can still smack serves into green blurs that whiz past like Howitzer rounds.
On a recent Saturday at the Boston Athletic Club, I stand alongside seven tennis players as our coach for the day approaches. He wears black shorts, a white tennis polo and a black cap.
He holds a beat up racquet with well-worn grip tape. He’s tall, broad shouldered, and looks much younger than someone turning 40 next year. “Morning everyone,” he says as he smiles and points to a woman in the group wearing a Roger Federer cap. “I used to lose a lot to that guy. But I’m going to kick your butts today.”
I laugh nervously. See this is no ordinary coach but Andy Roddick, the last, great American men’s tennis player. In his twelve-year career the former world #1 player won a U.S. Open (2003), a Davis Cup (2007), made five Grand Slam finals, and amassed 34 singles and 4 doubles titles.
As part of Marriott Bonvoy – Marriott International’s award-winning travel program, and its refreshed Moments platform that allows members to bid (with Marriott points) on unique and immersive experiences that ‘money can’t buy’ – Roddick has flown in from his Austin hometown to run the clinic.
My palms sweat as we take the court. Why worry, I ask myself. Since Roddick’s retirement from the pro tour in 2012, tennis has been all but an afterthought. He’s been raising two children with his wife, model-turned actress Brooklyn Decker.
He’s become a successful entrepreneur with a plethora of ventures including a commercial real estate company, Tiff’s Treats cookies, and most recently Sweetens Cove, a high-end bourbon (alongside Peyton Manning). He’s helped build the Andy Roddick Foundation, a non-profit that provides afterschool and summer programs to kids, into one of the most esteemed charities in the country.
After a light warmup, we begin drills. Forehands and backhands, approach shots and volleys. As Roddick returns every shot with remarkable ease (and with remarkable restraint), he grins, laughs, chats, and every so often pulls a player aside for a little coaching. He’s not mailing it in; he’s genuine, warm, and is clearly enjoying himself.
Then things heat up. “I don’t want to ruin the day and come out firing,” he says, explaining the initial easy pace. “But then you want people to see what it might be like if I pumped it up a bit. To give them a glimpse.”
That “glimpse” means unleashing dizzyingly fast forehands and staggeringly accurate lobs. It’s a combination of athleticism and artistry in its purest form, and this is from a guy who’s sport of choice for the last decade has been golf.
Lastly, it’s one-on-one time. And Roddick is serving. As I step to the baseline, I recall the advice from Rafa Muzlera, a former pro who now runs the Rafa Muzlera Tennis Performance academy in North Miami.
“Andy was one of the biggest servers on tour,” said Muzlera, adding that Roddick had once held the tour record with a 155mph delivery. “So definitely not the right guy to break. But just return it and play to his backhand. There you might have a chance.”
Across the court, Roddick toss the ball in the air and swings. Suddenly a green blur whizzes past, like something shot out of a Howitzer. I’ve never witnessed anything like it. Not only am I unable to play to Roddick’s backhand, but I can’t even get my racquet near the ball.
No matter. I smile because I know a once-in-a-lifetime experience when I see one.