Tuesday, April 6, 2004
Roddick wants Olympic gold
By Cynthia Faulkner
What tournament does Andy Roddick, the world's No. 2 tennis player, most want to win this year? Here's two hints: It's not an ATP event, and it will not be played on American soil.
Try Athens. The Olympic Games.
"If I could win one tournament this year, it would be that one," Roddick told ESPN.com recently.
Yep. Olympic gold is on the mind of the United States' top tennis player.
"If I got a medal, I'd want the gold," Roddick said. "It's one thing to be a finalist in a tournament, knowing that you can go back to it the next year, but the Olympics is once every four years."
So, how would winning the Olympics rate against winning the 2003 U.S. Open, his first Grand Slam title?
"The U.S. Open was my ultimate dream in tennis ... that was almost the pinnacle for me," said Roddick, who is the lead singles player in a Davis Cup quarterfinal against Sweden that opens Friday in Delray Beach, Fla. "That being said, if you said, 'OK, pick one tournament that you'd be victorious in this year,' I'd probably say the Olympics."
He's not alone in his thinking. Martina Navratilova, at age 47, says she's playing tennis for one more year, in part, because she hopes to play doubles with Lisa Raymond in the Olympics. Navratilova quit playing doubles with Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova in order to play with Raymond as much as possible this year in preparation for Athens.
"With Martina, I never say 'I can't believe,' " Fed Cup captain Zina Garrison said last week at the Nasdasq-100 Open. "I mean, anything she puts her mind to is just incredible."
Raymond, one of the world's best doubles players, and Navratilova, who has won 167 singles titles and 173 doubles titles in her career, have struggled more than expected.
"With Lisa and Martina, it's just a matter of their gelling," Garrison said. "It's going to come. I think that both of them are such great doubles players, and they've had some losses, maybe, that they didn't expect to have this year."
Serena Williams and Venus Williams are committed to playing in the Olympics and hope to play singles and doubles again. While Serena has a gold medal in doubles with her sister, it was Venus who took home singles gold in 2000.
"We're really excited," Serena said. "We've been working on our doubles game."
It was only after someone asked Serena last week if she had security concerns about Athens that the topic came up. Serena indicated that she might reconsider only if there were increased danger, but she plans to play.
Rather than security concerns keeping them home, tennis players are more likely to not participate in Athens because there is only one week separating the tennis portion of the Games and the start of the U.S. Open in New York. Kim Clijsters of Belgium and fiancÚ Lleyton Hewitt of Australia have announced they will not attend the Games because of the short turnaround.
Mike Bryan and Bob Bryan, who finished last year as the No. 1 doubles team in the world, likely will play doubles in Athens.
"The Olympics is going to be huge for us this year; it's one of our biggest goals," Bob said. "We barely missed Sydney. I mean, we missed by one spot. We were the No. 2 American team. We've had to wait four years for this."
When asked earlier this year if they had concerns, they both answered no, saying security is usually tight at tennis events regardless.
"I'm sure they're taking a lot of precautions," Mike said.
"With the Davis Cup team, we have two guys who work for the FBI; we feel safe pretty much wherever we go," Bob said.
The U.S. Tennis Association, which runs the U.S. Open and the U.S. operations for Davis Cup (men) and Fed Cup (women), selects the teams. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe and Fed Cup captain Garrison, who will serve as Olympic coaches, have both said the team's makeup is undecided. The United States may send up to four men and four women in singles with one women's and one men's doubles team. Two of the men's and women's singles players, such as Venus and Serena or Roddick and Mardy Fish, also may play doubles as a second team.
Although McEnroe, as Olympic coach, may choose the team, he indicated earlier this year that it might strictly go by ranking. The option to pick, however, allows him a choice in case of injury.
"It's nice to have guys who want desperately to play for their country, whether it's Davis Cup or the Olympics," McEnroe said.
Garrison said this week that the Olympic team is undecided for the women. Although it would be a surprise if both Williams sisters did not attend, the number of injuries to the American women could make this choice an interesting one. If you go by ranking, Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati -- struggling to recover from a back injury -- and Chanda Rubin also might be included.
With the Games in August, it makes performance during the clay-court season -- on a less comfortable surface for most of the Americans -- more meaningful as players fight to improve their rankings.
For the men, Roddick is clearly the top player, with Fish, Vince Spadea, Taylor Dent, James Blake and Robby Ginepri all fighting for the remaining spots.
"The next couple of months is definitely key," Ginepri said in February. "Last year, I had wrist surgery in the time that they're going to be taking points for the Olympics, so hopefully I can get a good ranking and make the team."
"It's going to be close," Fish said. "Everyone has points to defend."
"I'm sure that's in the back of their minds that they're competing with each other, and they would love to play the Olympics, so that I think is only going to help them get better," McEnroe said. "For them, you just can't think about it too much. (You) just have to go play your game and do what you do and hope that you end up one of the top four."
Participation in Fed Cup is a prerequiste for the Olympics. Nearly all of the women have competed recently except for Capriati, who had a falling-out with former captain Billie Jean King, and Davenport, who last participated in 2002. The women's next tie is in Portoroz, Slovenia, on April 24-25. The team for that first-round tie is comprised of the Williams sisters and Navratilova and Raymond, with Garrison calling it a "dream team."
Although Davis Cup and Fed Cup are team competitions, it's an individual competition at the Olympics.
"I've always thought there should be a way to include a team in the Olympics when it comes to your country because also it's another tournament, sort of, with more on the line," Andre Agassi said last week. "I'd like to see it be a bit more of a team format somehow."
There's a lot on the line when it comes to playing for your country as an individual or a team. Agassi, who already won gold in 1996 and is not likely to play because of choosing not to participate in Davis Cup, said the Olympics are more meaningful than a Davis Cup title.
"You only get a chance at it every four years," Agassi said. "Just by ratio of how often you get a chance to play, it makes it more special and it's still for your country. You still feel like it's quite a powerful feeling there with the national anthem."
Roddick said he decided four years ago that he wanted to be in the Olympics.
"I've been watching it ever since I could remember," Roddick said. "I remember in 2000, I was in New Orleans playing a junior tournament, and I was watching the opening ceremonies (in Sydney). I made it a goal of mine to walk through that opening ceremony in 2004.
"I'm super excited to go this year."
Cynthia Faulkner is the tennis and Olympics editor for ESPN.com. Mal Washington contributed to this report.