Roddick rocks the night
BY DIRK CHATELAIN
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
Stop everything, Andy Roddick said. Hold on.
He called the heckler, an 18 year old wearing a self-designed T-shirt that declared love for Roddick, down from the crowd. He walked to the microphone.
Did you all hear what he said, Roddick asked the crowd of about 6,000 at the Qwest Center: "He said, Andy, you wuss."
So, in the middle of Roddick's singles exhibition match, he invited the kid to grab a racquet. Take position opposite the net. Get ready.
Then Roddick hit a serve, 144 mph, directly at the kid, who ran for cover upon contact.
The crowd roared.
"That's about as tough as a tennis player can feel - ever," Roddick said.
In his first-ever professional performance in the town where he was born, Roddick mixed world-class tennis with the charisma that makes him not just a racquet master, but a celebrity.
He came out of the locker room wearing a Nebraska football helmet, much to the approval of Tom Osborne. He ran the option with Eric Crouch, assigning the Heisman winner the I-back role. He consistently bantered with the crowd and fired balls into the cheap seats. And, of course, he displayed overwhelming power and deft touch.
Roddick's the 2003 U.S. Open champion. He's the No. 6 player in the world. He led the U.S. to the Davis Cup title two weeks ago.
Sam Querrey, a rising professional star and co-star at the exhibition, found out why, falling to Roddick, 6-4, 6-4.
The singles portion of the event started with Serena Williams' win over Ashley Harkleroad 6-4, 6-2.
Three hours into the event, Roddick and Williams paired for one set of mixed doubles against Querrey and Harkleroad - the stars won 6-3.
Williams may be the bigger name around the world, but Roddick owned the show. His serves blistered Querrey's chances. He hit 147 and 149 mph on back-to-back aces in the second set. He topped out at 151 mph, four mph short of his ATP record.
The exhibition, Rock-n-Racquets, came to Omaha for the first time. Roddick started it in 2002 with Andre Agassi. Agassi has since retired, so Roddick called on Williams, owner of eight Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal.
The idea: develop tennis interest in places like Omaha that rarely see the sport up close, said Williams, who'd never been to Nebraska. The idea worked, mostly because of Roddick.
"He's been really entertaining," said Dena Noe, a tennis novice from Lincoln. "I didn't expect that. He's got a great personality - and a really odd serve. I think they're having a lot of fun together."
Roddick concluded the night with impersonations: Andre Agassi's walk, Maria Sharapova's grunt, Rafael Nadal tugging on his pants.
He was taking requests when someone shouted "Jimmy Connors!"
For a moment, Roddick considered imitating his legendary coach. Then he thought better of it, flipping a ball into the air and ripping another serve.
I'm sure you know I wish I was in Omaha this past Friday night to see my favorite players entertain (and win!). But we catered and hosted an office Christmas party at the farm and had a great time of our own.