In Indianapolis to accept an award on November 13, Andy Roddick spoke with clear-eyed bluntness about the sport of tennis: "You spend a few hours trying to kick someone’s [butt], and then some [butt] is kicked."
The city he was in has a multi-faceted, even multi-surface history with tennis, one that Roddick himself knows well. Until 1986, years of U.S. Clay Court Championships played out in the Indiana state capital, as Chris Evert reminded us in September. Then, from 1988 through 2009, the city's ATP stop, highly rated by players and most commonly remembered as the RCA Championships, featured many of the game's greatest–John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, et al.–and injected confidence into others' early careers–including 2007 doubles champion Juan Martin del Potro (a US Open winner two years later) and 2008 singles victor Gilles Simon (who entered the Top 10 months later).
Roddick was twice an Indianapolis Tennis Championships champ, in 2003 and 2004, and he also reached the 2006 final, losing a three-setter to James Blake that will go down as one of the best-played title matches this reporter has viewed live (as an ITF volunteer at the time).
Even then, Roddick called the match the best he had ever played and yet lost. (Fret not, humble Indy denizens, another epic encounter would replace it. More on that later.) The Indy tour stop shuttered after 2009, replaced in the ATP calendar by the Atlanta event, though Roddick would return to the Circle City in 2016, participating in an exhibition match against homegrown Hoosier Rajeev Ram.
Yesterday we honored @andyroddick & @RajeevRam at our annual #PathfinderAwards Luncheon for their continued service to youth. The @theARFoundation & @EntouRajforKids have made a significant impact in their communities improving the lives of our youth through sports and education. pic.twitter.com/KJDjwsKNkJ— Indiana Sports Corp (@IndSportsCorp) November 14, 2018
All that set the stage for Roddick's most recent return to Indy, for an event in which he and his pal Ram, founder of the fashionably monikered EntouRaj for Kids foundation, each accepted 2018 Pathfinder Awards, doled out by the Indiana Sports Corp.
A local athletics advocacy organization, ISC was founded about 40 years ago to commission sporting events in a city that eventually landed the 2012 Super Bowl, among other marquee professional and collegiate events. Celebrating those who give back to the communities that have given them so much praise and more over time, the organization's Pathfinder Awards have gone to date to the likes of Peyton Manning, Jack Nicklaus, Tony Dungy, and other Indy-centric and global sports figures.
The founder of the eponymous Andy Roddick Foundation, by now a longtime nonprofit leader, found himself inspired years ago by a forefather of American tennis, Agassi, to get more civically involved. For Roddick and Ram both, there's perspective that they can do a lot to enrich lives well beyond tennis.
"When you see your heroes doing stuff like that, you fall in line," Roddick said at one point of watching Agassi's post-pro efforts to improve educational opportunities for disadvantaged youth in Las Vegas.
Ram added of his work with EntouRaj for Kids, the foundation he started in 2010, "It doesn’t matter if [the kids served] play tennis again. It’s about skills and traits they take on."
ICYMI: The #PathfinderAwards took place last week to honor @andyroddick and @RajeevRam and celebrate our mission.@BrookeMartinTV emceed the event and sat down with Andy and Rajeev to talk about their careers and foundations.— Indiana Sports Corp (@IndSportsCorp) November 18, 2018
To be honest, we're still laughing at Andy's jokes. pic.twitter.com/qz1YyGsmkX
NFL star Drew Brees and actress/model Brooklyn Decker, Roddick's wife, sent in short clips saluting the now 36-year-old Texan, who retired from ATP play at the 2012 US Open. Flanked by their two young kids, Decker, in her video, nearly seemed to make her husband tear up. Asked if young son Hank might follow in his parents' professional footsteps, Roddick quipped, "Yeah, I think my son is going to be a model for swimwear."
Roddick owned his patented droll, self-deprecating demeanor for the ISC event, and to his likewise self-aware credit, said, "One if my rules is that I have to be the dumbest person in our board room at any time, and that has served us well."
The Andy Roddick Foundation, which he noted had 27 children participate in a parking lot for its first-ever event, now serves 3,500 children per day.
The @IndSportsCorp honored @andyroddick / @theARFoundation & @RajeevRam / @EntouRajforKids at today's Pathfinder Award Luncheon.— Borshoff (@Borshoff) November 14, 2018
ARF's first event served 27 kids - now it serves 3,500 daily. Andy had great advice for people who want to make a difference.
"Just start." pic.twitter.com/uc5OGF1Kz6
Interviewer and local news anchor Brooke Martin good-naturedly interrogated both Roddick and Ram about their careers. Among the best verbal volleys:
Roddick, referring to Team USA's Davis Cup outings during his tenure: "We took it on the chin a bunch as a team."
Ram, about playing on university and high-school squads: "The times I got to play on a team, its different for us. Those team events really stick out."
Ram, on playing mixed doubles in the 2016 Rio Olympics with Venus Williams, where the pair had a two-hour practice before the event began: "I was just trying to keep up, and I held my own."
Roddick on his longevity in tennis: "Being consistent, being in the convo for a decade mattered to me. ... Effort was never really a problem."
Asked to pinpoint his favorite career achievement, Roddick remarked that it would be "like cheating on another memory. I just feel lucky for everything, really.”
Interestingly, when beckoned to disclose their classic Ones That Got Away, for Roddick and Ram both, it came down to two points each. For Roddick, two tiebreak points in the 2009 Wimbledon final, a match in which he won 39 games but lost to Roger Federer. As for Ram, he tapped the two super-tiebreak points that separated him and Williams from a gold medal in Rio, in a match won by Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jack Sock.
We can all say we have those opportunities that got away, in tennis or in life. What's key to Roddick and Ram's way about things is that they weren't defined by temporary, single-event setbacks – they have moved on admirably, and they are creating new opportunities for future generations.
Follow Jon on Twitter @jonscott9.
(Disclosure: Scott is on the EntouRaj for Kids board of directors.)