Roddick to the rescue

Updated: May 24, 2004, 6:45 PM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

Andy Roddick reiterated last week that winning a gold medal at the Olympics is right at the top of his in-box -- and he's even willing to go after doubles gold, too.

Well, that's awfully thoughty of him. We're sure American coach Patrick McEnroe is all for it, and if he isn't, well, most of us aren't paying that much attention anyway, so we'll get over it pretty quickly.

In the meantime, there is the French Open, where it seems that Li'l Andy and Vince Spadea are the last standing Americans in the bottom half of the draw, now that Andre Agassi has backed up his loss a week ago to No. 339 Nenad Zimonjic at St. Poelten with a first-round French Open loss to No. 271 Jerome Haehnel.

And what do you need to know about Haehnel? Well, let him tell it.

"He (Agassi) lost two weeks ago, to a guy like me in St. Poelten," Haehnel said cheerily. "Bad player."

Now that's a scouting report for the ages.

But we don't bring this up to shovel dirt on Agassi -- the rules of sportswriting etiquette demand that you actually have to be in the country he's just been crushed in to tell him to get out of the game, so that's someone else's gig today.

No, this is about Roddick, who is one Grand Slam title into his resumé, with the pressure of playing for one's nation without actually realizing it.

Tennis is, to its great shame at times, as caught up in nationalities as the Olympics, and Agassi's demolition by "Bad Player No. 2" (hey, you got a complaint, go talk to Haehnel) reminds those who keep score this way that the Americans have been playing baritone sax to the rest of the world for a while now. Indeed, Roddick is the man, Yankee-speaking, and the Olympics are frankly less important by a wide margin.

At least we suspect so. After all, until Roddick won the U.S. Open last fall, he was easing, fairly or otherwise, into Phil Mickelson territory as "The Best Player Not To Have ..." and blah-de-blah-de-blah. Yes, he had barely eased into his third decade of life, but Pete Sampras was done, Agassi was nearly halfway into his fourth decade, and Spadea was still, well, Vince Spadea. Plus, Roddick had bailed out in the first round of each of the past two Frenches, although neither time to anyone as charming (read: improbable) as Haehnel.

In other words, the future is now, Jack, and now is a hard mistress to please.

Agassi's defeat helps exacerbate the pressure on Roddick to fly the flag, because it was so, well, preposterous. Haehnel not only hadn't won an ATP match this year but also his last outing, on the Challengers circuit, was a first-round loss to Andis Juska and a check for $118.

Checks like that do not run 4-by-8 feet. Often, they just pay in cash and give you a keychain.

But Haehnel wins in straight sets, and once again American tennis fans are reminded that American men are an endangered species. Roddick and Spadea are the only American seeds left on the testosterone side of the draw, which suggests that the Olympics are the least of Roddick's issues right now.

Now we'd like to give you a quick summation of what happened to American men's tennis, but you already know the story. They done been passed up by most of Europe because all the great young American athletes are playing Arena football and indoor lacrosse. Or some other harebrained excuse; pick one you like and run with it.

But as for Roddick, it seems clear he can do as much for American tennis right here and now by playing to his seed, No. 2. The Olympics are, as they should be, an afterthought in comparison.

Yes, he could do both, and good on him if he can. But given the parlous state of American men's tennis, a big result at the French would do far more, patriotically speaking, than a big result in Athens. It would also do wonders for Roddick himself.

A big result in this case would be getting through his quarter of the draw, which now includes such imposing players as Tim Henman, Paradorn Srichaphan and Juan Ignacio Chela, and such miscellaneous surnames as Mutis, Labadze, Verdasco, Burgsmuller, Horna and Llodra, not to mention the now famous Haehnel.

And then, clearing the section that includes Guillermo Coria, Carlos Moya and Tommy Robredo. This may be a lot to ask for someone who has already stayed longer at this French Open than at either of the past two, but if he's going to volunteer for Olympic overtime, he needs to bring some recent resum&eactue; additions with him before the June 14 rankings cutoff for the Games.

Well, actually, he doesn't. What, is McEnroe going to get picky now?

Still, if Roddick believes firmly enough in America's role at the Olympics, he must know America's role at Roland Garros -- which took on a little more tarnish today.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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