Roddick is towering as a showman

Pro plays the fool for sake of charity, mugging his way past Isner

October 10, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN REPORTER

Fifth-ranked Andy Roddick was up a set and a break last night in the 22nd annual PNC Tennis Classic when Ashley Card, a fan in the seventh row, yelled at him.

"You're too far back," Card advised.

Roddick, who was standing about 4 feet behind the service line to receive 6-foot-9 rookie pro John Isner's punishing serve, stopped, turned and invited the construction superintendent from Abingdon to take his place.

Card, dressed in a bright yellow shirt and tan shorts, slowly came on down. He took Roddick's offered racket and Roddick positioned him at the service line. As Roddick walked toward the sidelines, Card took one step back, which Roddick noticed immediately. He came back on court and moved his replacement up until his toes touched the line. Then he went back to his seat.

Meanwhile, Isner looked unsure. Should he give it his all or take it easy? Finally, he unloaded.

Card, 40, let go a grunt as he got the racket up just in time to defend himself.

Roddick patted Card's shoulder, content that someone else knew that returning the kid's serve wasn't easy.

It was that kind of night at 1st Mariner, as Roddick played with the crowd - and Isner - taking the match, 6-4, 6-2.

After the singles, the world No. 1 doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan earned a playful victory over Roddick and his brother John, 8-4, in an eight-game pro set.

"I had a blast," said Andy Roddick, who added with a laugh, "especially when you can get hit in the stomach by a guy with a yellow shirt [Card]. There's always one guy."

Later, Roddick said that in the "great scheme of things" it didn't make much difference who won the match, as it primarily benefited children's charities and served as a practice session for the fall pro schedule.

"But John and I are too competitive to not want to win," he said. "The last thing I wanted to do, period, was lose."

This was the first time Hall of Famer and tournament creator Pam Shriver has scheduled her event for early October, choosing to do so because yesterday was the only day this event fit into Andy Roddick's schedule. She admitted she was a little worried about how many tennis fans would turn out and the crowd was probably a little less than the 8,000 she was hoping for.

But she was still able to present a check for $200,000 to the Baltimore Community Foundation for distribution to area children's charities. Over 22 years, the event has raised more than $4 million for children's charities in the Baltimore area.

"We're having a heat wave and people aren't used to coming inside yet," she said. "But I think we have to be flexible if we want to continue to draw the top players like Agassi, Roddick and Sharapova. We have to get on their schedules when we can get on their schedules. This year Andy said he could come Oct. 9, so we're having it Oct. 9. If someone else says they can come Feb. 3, we'll have it then, because it is so hard just to get on their schedules.

"There are three things you have to have: top players, your title sponsor and arena availability. You can't have Disney on Ice."

It was Roddick's third appearance here and the maturity he has gained over the years was apparent, as he acted the part of the showman, laughing and joking with everyone while Isner, 22, played a more subdued game in a rare - to this point in his young career - celebrity appearance.

"I played pretty well," said Isner, who had played Roddick once, losing in two close sets in the Legg Mason Tournament final in Washington. "When you're playing a top-five player, you're not going to beat him every time out. In my limited experience, it's always tough playing Andy."

From the opening point it was apparent Roddick would enjoy the night. He took his time getting in position for the first serve from Isner's personal 6-9 mountaintop. Later, he dragged a chair onto the court and stood on it, threatening to serve from it just to show Isner what it was like to be down in the valley on the receiving end.

It was a lively match, with Isner slamming his serves between 130 and 140 mph, and Roddick, who had reached 150 mph last summer, coming right back at him.

While Roddick tried to encourage officials to call Isner's serve out, Isner simply accepted Roddick's with grace.

In Game 6 of the first set, Roddick served two aces, a service winner and a low, slow ball that came back for a perfect overhead winner.

"It's a clinic," said one fan, relishing the exhibition.

Notes -- In the nightcap, which is always the Orioles' Challenge featuring members of the Orioles and/or the Ravens, Shriver had to change up the program when only Matt Stover was able to show up. The crowd provided its own entertainment, as the Bryan brothers' father, Wayne, organized a fan participation session in which members of the audience played doubles against the Bryans.sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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