It's tradition: Roddick serves as mentor
John JeansonneJohn Jeansonne
Jeansonne has been a reporter in Newsday’s sports department since
Andy Roddick had just given Jack Sock a hard lesson in big-time tennis Friday night when he proposed something of a PhD course for 18-year-old lad who just turned pro. As they met at the net in Arthur Ashe Stadium following Roddick's straight-sets, second-round victory in the U.S. Open, Sock said, "He told me I'll be on that court many more times, that I've got a bright future.
"Then he invited me to Austin to practice."
There is a history of this sort of mentoring among male tennis players. Pete Sampras was 19 years old when he was welcomed to spend time hitting against, and training with, two-time Open champ Ivan Lendl at Lendl's home in Connecticut.
Sampras related how Lendl, then 30 and at the top of his game, offered him the first glimpse of the work required to be No. 1, then promptly defeated Lendl in the 1990 Open quarterfinals on his way to the first of 14 major-tournament titles.
Just this year, Sampras, now 40 and retired since winning his fifth Open in 2002, similarly stamped Donald Young's passport for a tour of the sport's forbidden city, challenging the 22-year-old -- who still is trying to live up to his prodigy status at 15 -- to a first-to-21 rally.
"He beat me," Young said. "He let me know that wasn't good. And he talked and called me a little princess and everything.
"But when he was driving off, he was like, 'I expect to hear some big things from you.' That made me sit back, like, 'Wow, Pete Sampras just said he expects me to do some big things.' That gave me a lot of confidence and pushed me to work harder."
In the case of Roddick-Sock, the next-generation theme -- Roddick just turned 29 and, for the first time in a decade, is not the top-ranked American male -- was flavored with the fact that both hail from Nebraska, not exactly a tennis hothouse.
"He was the guy to watch for guys my age growing up," Sock said. "Obviously, being from Nebraska, that was more incentive to watch him."
So, as cold, cold hearted as Roddick could be on the court Friday night when he dismantled young Sock, he was more than willing to participate in Sock's future development.
"Andre [Agassi] was probably my mentor when I came out," Roddick said. "He was my hero. It was surreal, like I was in a daze. It was really cool because my dad put this court together in our yard in Florida and Andre would come over and hit. So the neighbors, who would complain we were out there hitting balls at six in the morning, all of a sudden would look through the bushes and didn't complain any more."
In recent years, Roddick has asked "about 25 up-and-coming prospects to my house, [but] just because they come and visit doesn't mean they'll automatically make it. We'll see. I don't know how much I know about anything, but I'm certainly happy to share what I do if they want to listen."
Of course, he could be contributing to his own demise. Sock's serve, Roddick said, "has gotten a lot better, and I think he's grown about a foot in the last year. His forehand's got some serious RPMs on it. He just going to have to learn some of the subtleties."
Graduate school with an old veteran can't hurt.