Stay with me, here. Last night, I propped open my eyelids until two in the morning, riveted to a tennis match in Melbourne, Australia. Roddick played for a spot in the semi-finals of the year’s first major tournament. After the first set, which he lost in a tiebreak, Roddick called the trainer and took an injury time out. My stomach churned, because Andy isn’t prone to calling the trainer. He’s tough. Something had to be wrong.
He came back for a second set but his opponent trounced him. Roddick looked to be in a fair amount of discomfort – if not pain – and had trouble mustering energy. At the close of the second set, while the trainer worked on his shoulder again, it looked to be all but over. (For tennis newbies – men must win 3 out of 5 sets to secure a match.) The announcers wondered aloud whether or not Roddick would retire from the match because of the injury. Players do that. It’s allowed. Justine Henin, number one in the world a few years ago, retired in the middle of a Grand Slam FINAL because of a STOMACHACHE (she was losing). Last year, Novak Djokovic retired in a Quarterfinal because it was TOO HOT (he was losing). Last night, Rafa Nadal retired because of a nagging knee injury. He was down two sets and it “was impossible to win the match.” Yes, tennis players retire, give up, throw in the towel – but not Andy Roddick.
Roddick lost in the fifth set, but not for lack of heart or spirit. He battled through the pain, even though he knew – we all knew – his chances of stealing the victory were slim. His spirit might be wounded after the loss, but his pride shouldn’t be. Andy has been down before, even considered retiring less than two years ago. His career is solid. Besides Roger Federer, he’s the only man on the tour to have remained in the top 10 since 2002. There are a couple of things he really wants though: another Grand Slam title, and a Wimbledon Championship. So he hired a new coach, dropped weight, adjusted his style, worked harder. 2009 was a great year and he looks to be on the right track. I know I’m rooting for the guy.
Andy has learned to handle rejection. Last night, a giant, gangly, 21 year old Croatian rejected him. Last July, Roger Federer dealt a crushing rejection in a Wimbledon final Roddick deserved to win. I only watched it, and the loss hurt me for hours after. It must have brought Andy to his knees, made him wonder if maybe he should quit. But he didn’t. He kept practicing, staying fit, and working on bolstering belief in himself. Roddick might never win another Grand Slam or hold that trophy at Wimbledon. Maybe everyone else is too good, or he’s too old, or his body will give out before he gets there. One thing I know for sure, though. If he fails, it won’t be because he didn’t fight. When Andy Roddick leaves a tennis court, win or lose, the surface is stained with his guts, pain, sweat, and tears.
As an aspiring writer, I see many parallels to my own travels along the path of dreams. Andy Roddick inspires me. I will take the rejections, change my approach, learn, work harder. I might never be a successful author – or even a published one. But if the day comes when I decide to walk away and try something new, no one will be able to say I didn’t fight. My keyboard will be stained with my guts, pain, sweat, and tears. So thank you, Andy, for reminding us that when it comes to our dreams, playing the game isn’t enough. You have to do it with heart.