Roddick focuses on his mission


WIMBLEDON, England – They stroll into the interview room one by one, the bored tennis superstars, interested in getting their 10-minute media sessions completed, uninterested in providing more than clichés.

But then in walks Andy Roddick.

The main man in American tennis. The 22-year-old, messy-haired, brown-eyed free swinger who delivers 140-mile-per-hour bullets not only with his racket but also with his mouth.

He's the Shaquille O'Neal of tennis. Put a microphone in front of him, ask a question and, more times than not, you're going to be entertained.

What other superstar professional athlete would use the word "gnarly," as Roddick did Tuesday when describing the blinding sun that burned into his eyes as he tried to serve mid-afternoon on a cloud-free day from Wimbledon's No. 1 court?

Who else would respond to a question (about the pressure of being the only American male with a legitimate chance of winning Wimbledon) by comparing the nerves he deals with to those of a sandwich maker fretting over using too much mustard?

Only Roddick. And that's what he did after Tuesday's yawner, a 6-1, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 opening-match victory over the Czech Republic's Jiri Vanek, who hadn't played at Wimbledon since 2001 and had lost in the opening round in his previous two appearances. Roddick was coming off of his Queen's Club victory last week in the Wimbledon tune-up.

Eighty-eight minutes, 14 aces and one 141 mph serve after they began, the match was over. And the postmatch fun was set to begin.

After dropping "gnarly" on writers from across the world in describing the sun that caused him to struggle with his serve at times, Roddick responded to a question about the added pressure of being the only American male with a legitimate shot at the championship.

"There's not one person at this tournament who doesn't have pressure on him," Roddick said. "That's part of the whole thing. If I didn't want pressure, I'd go make sandwiches somewhere, you know."

Responded the reporter: "A lot of pressure in that."

Said Roddick, with a grin: "Well, there could be. I mean, maybe too much mustard, I don't know."

When the laughter died down, another reporter began his question. "The last time a U.S. [male] player won a major was seven majors ago…"

He didn't get to finish before Roddick interrupted, finishing his question: "And that hasn't happened for 15 years," Roddick said, grinning yet again. "What do you think about that, Andy?"

The reporter, somewhat flustered, gave in. "Maybe you want to answer your own question," he said. "Probably better than the one I'm going to ask."

Roddick scratched his head, looked around the room and responded as honestly as he could.

"What did you ask again?"

The reporter explained. He simply wanted to know how important winning was to Roddick. It's a question most superstar athletes would dodge – or explode at. Picture somebody asking Sammy Sosa how badly he really wants to win.

Later Tuesday, when a reporter asked Venus Williams whether tennis is as important to her as it was five years ago, she answered with just two words: "Sure. Absolutely."

Roddick? He was a bit more expansive.

"I want to win this tournament," he said defiantly. "I'm hungry to win this tournament. That's the next step."

Roddick went on to explain that he feels he's playing better this year than he was a year ago, when he made it to the Wimbledon final, where he lost to Roger Federer.

Before the 10 minutes were up, Roddick would banter back and forth with reporters about Robert "Big Shot Bob" Horry's game-winning shot in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Roddick's brother is a huge Spurs fan, and Roddick admitted he's already tired of hearing about the 3-pointer.

He then saved one last gem for a question about being the No. 2 seed at Wimbledon with only one Grand Slam victory (the 2000 U.S. Open) under his belt and whether that brought additional pressure.

"If you guys were the second-best journalists in the world, I'd bet you'd be pretty happy," Roddick said. "It's a fine line, but it's almost like a backhanded compliment. I guess that's the level I've set.

"I'm not going to sit here and cry about anything in my life."

And with that, he was off. Off to the gauntlet of television cameras, boom mikes and tape recorders that waited outside for their five minutes.

And off to the second round.

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Wayne.Drehs@espn3.com.