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Andy Roddick, American tennis player

His absence was most apparent this weekend — in Davis Cup play against Spain — more than a week after he officially retired, when he waved goodbye, blowing kisses to a New York crowd with tears in his eyes.
Not that having Andy Roddick on clay against Spain would have done much good. But we can think so.
By now, we’ve been doing a lot of that, thinking about Roddick, his legacy, what he accomplished, how he led American tennis, if he made the most of his lethal serve, boastful forehand and adequate backhand.
He entered with aggression — the big serve, fast feet, quick points. He hiccuped but survived, succeeded.
Could this be it? The next Great American? An inspired run?
Before long, he changed. Injuries. Style. Different coaching. Not quite as much zip on the serve, not the step in his movement.
And, despite the roars, it was over.
His last match against Juan Martin del Potro. His career as the No. 1 tennis player in America.
Roddick’s final match did well to emulate his career, with a quick and exciting start, and a dashing and predictable ending, injuries and a superior player across the net from him to fault.
Roddick might not have gotten the most of his game, or he might have. Five major finals. One Grand Slam.
It’s also hard to argue with 32 singles titles and an overall record of 612-213. It’s even more difficult to not shake your head at nine: the number of consecutive seasons in which Roddick finished in the top 10, from 2002 to 2010.
As Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray all ascended to the top, Roddick didn’t go away, consistently winning the matches he was supposed to, occasionally taking down a higher seed.
As he did throughout his career, he would tease you, dictate points with his forehand, hit backhands down the line. We’d think aloud, I think he could win this.
The next match, he’d try to take advantage of his fitness, grind it out with whomever was across the net, only to be left to be the first carrying his bags off the court.
Like the del Potro match, Roddick never had his final hurrah, his last triumph. Some rightly thought his last best chance came in the 2009 Wimbledon final. Many others refused to believe it, thinking Roddick had just one run, one hot streak left in him. Maybe that’s what we wanted most: a Jimmy Connors like U.S. Open run to reward the faith America had placed in Roddick for so many years.
Then again, Roddick was never one with something to prove, and rightly so.
He’s done more off the court with his foundation than the majority of professional athletes think of doing. And he’s entertained — and frustrated — us all over the past decade with his grit, talent and success.
Roddick will stop playing professionally, and do something else just as admirable, with the same dedication and persistence he brought to the court every day.
Legacy achieved, indeed.

Other thoughts on Roddick:
SI: Jon Wertheim
ESPN: Grantland: All about Andy

In Davis Cup victory, U.S. shocks world

Davis Cup photo - Siggi Bucher

A buddy e-mailed me over the weekend about the U.S. success in Switzerland.

“Is this how the world ends?” he wrote.

Bob Bryan sitting out from doubles. Mr. Davis Cup, Andy Roddick, out as well. Mardy Fish, coming off a first-round loss in the Australian Open, as the U.S.’ great hope. The Americans facing Switzerland — Roger Federer, Stan Wawinka — in Fribourg. On clay.

Save Novak Djokovic suddenly gaining Swiss citizenship, you could not have stacked the odds any higher for the U.S. men to beat, let alone sweep, Switzerland in this weekend’s first-round Davis Cup matchup.

But somehow they did it.

John Isner beat Roger Federer. Shocking enough by itself, and then, in four sets. And did we mention on clay? The surface in which Federer beat Djokovic at last year’s French Open, giving the world No.1 his only loss in a Grand Slam in 2011. Isner, subbing in for Roddick, called it, “the win of my life.”

Even more amazing might be Fish’s resurgence after an awful showing in Melbourne, losing to 7-6 (4), 6-3, 7-6 (6) to that one guy who almost beat Roger Federer in the first round of Wimbledon years ago, Alejandro Falla.

Fish comes from two sets down and takes out the always tough, always scrappy Wawrinka, 6-2, 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 9-7.

Think about how the American men finished Davis Cup in 2011: With a loss. At home. On the fast indoor courts in Austin, Texas.

Fish lost a sloppy five-setter to Feliciano Lopez. Lost a tough, nasty four-set match against David Ferrer. Don’t think that played in his head at all this weekend?

All this when Federer decides to play the first round of Davis Cup since 2004. All this when America hadn’t swept anybody since its first-round sweep over Austria in the same year.

Is the world ending? Crazier things have happened.

Can we call that progress?

AFP photo

For a day, U.S. men were relevant. And in Paris, that’s some progress, right?

There we had John Isner up two sets to one against Rafael Nadal, who, before Novak Djokovic stopped losing, was the god of clay court.

The world was astounded. We all watched and wondered, Would this be the day Nadal’s confidence flat-lined and his game followed?

Isner. An American. A set away from knocking off Nadal, a Spaniard and one of the all-time greats on clay, in the first round. One of the biggest upsets in French Open history, one set away.

Then, as you know, Nadal exhausted Isner, who lost the next two sets 2-6, 4-6.

Progress? I’d say so. Even though it was a first-round stumble, Isner built on his best French Open showing in 2010 when he lost in the third round.

And there, not too far away, we had Ryan Harrison showing some spunk again, stealing a set from the fifth-seeded Robin Soderling.

Would both Harrison and Isner be moving on, shoving two of the best clay players in the game to the stands?

Harrison, the 20-year-old American playing in his first French Open and only his third major, tied at a set a piece against Soderling, the two-time French Open finalist.

Then Soderling won the next two sets 6-3, 7-5.

A step forward? Why not.

We saw Sam Querrey win his first ever French Open match, beating Philipp Kohlscreiber, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

Then Querrey faced the deceptive Ivan Ljubicic and lost a close one, 6-7, 4-6, 4-6. (Ljubicic moved on again, taking out Fernando Verdasco in straight sets, 6-3, 7-6, 6-4.)

No confusing this outcome. This was legitimate good news for American tennis and for Querrey, who has struggled to get out of the first round of any Grand Slam, especially when playing on American men’s kryptonite – red clay.

(Andy Roddick, who’s had his best years at the French in 2009 and 2010, passed this year because of a bum shoulder.)

And Mardy Fish, now the top-ranked American man, survived until the third round but was outdone by Gilles Simon, 3-6, 4-6, 2-6. Still, despite the loss, Fish’s best showing yet in Paris.

Yeah, this might be an overly optimistic report of American men after one week of a major. The U.S. again has no men in the second round of the French Open. (For that matter, no women, either.)

But when in Paris and discussing American men’s tennis, it’s always been a stretch to find good news.

Welcome

Jonathon Braden is a reporter for the Omaha World-Herald. He mostly writes about education, focusing on Omaha Public Schools, a school district with about 50,000 students. Before writing about schools in Omaha, Jonathon wrote about Omaha crime and happenings in Columbia, Mo.

This is his site, where he writes about random sightings, a cool thing he saw, tennis and just about anything. Got an idea? Let him know.

OWH: 85 show up at OPS forum

Some things, as a reporter, you sometimes get tired of. As a schools reporter, one of those things can be forums. You heard the word and you think, 10 people sitting around listening to someone talking for two hours.

I thought the same thing would happen the other night. I was wrong.

OWH: 85 show up at OPS forum

They wanted to ask questions when they were supposed to give answers.

What makes up the school district’s benefits?

They wanted to discuss specifics when asked about the general.

What about those administrative positions? Which ones are going to get cut?

They wanted an option D when there was only A, B or C. And they weren’t bashful about being specific themselves.

Many of the 85 people at a public forum Thursday night brought their questions, worries and complaints about the Omaha Public Schools budget.

The howling winds: Who will win?

The fields exhale as if it’s a contest, a mini-tornado like intense game of back and forth blows.

Their breaths chap the skin, making humans guard their faces and shield their bodies.

In the country, though, the howls meet in the middle: Interstate 29, where cars cruise the fastest and crash the hardest.

The winds push the cars to the left. They howl the vehicles to the right. How quick and how drastic the vehicles dart depends on the size of the ride and the control of the driver. But, no matter how big the vehicle, when the driver lifts his hands off the controls, the fields make their move – whistling the motors to the rumbling strips.

You’re aware now – of the strips and of the howls, how intense they feel and how much damage they could cause. You pledge to keep both hands on the controls, or at least just one, at all times.

Still, the fields persist, apparently upset over this prolonged winter that has brought temperatures in the 20s when they should be in the 40s.

Spring: Is it near? The fields do not know, nor do they care. Their corn has been stripped, their beans have been picked. And now they wait, for a time when the howling will stop, when the sun will shine and when the corn will rise again from their dirt and when the beans will crowd their soil.

People will saunter about the fields, and the fields will no longer shout and scream.

Spring: When the fields will rest.

Until then, drive carefully.

“Is he your son?”

“Is he your son?”

The elderly man asked the woman standing next to me in the lunch line.

The woman, to be clear, is probably old enough to be my mom. But I am 25, so that only means she is at least 40 or so.

She, standing next to me, a source for a future story, didn’t hear him through the setting of trays and the pinging of silverware.

“No,” I responded, turning to my left where he stood behind me in line. “No, I’m a reporter at the World-Herald.” (Apparently that means I don’t have a mother as well.)

I extended my hand to his, and we shook hands but didn’t exchange names.

It was just after noon on Monday, and the Omaha Public Schools cafeteria at the district’s administration building had few empty tables. Some 400 people work at the district’s Teacher and Administrative Center. About 100 of them must have choosing to eat on the cheap this day.

I turned to the appetizing lasagna teasing in front of me. What will you be having? the lunch lady asked.

“I’ll take the meat lasagna, please.”

It had been so long since I savored a fat piece of meat, cheese and cottage cheese all warmed together to form the gorgeous selection of food known as lasagna. We have our Italian brothers and sisters to thank for lasagna, which even makes for a beautiful word, too: lasagna. It moves up and down, taking we wannabe linguists on a trip just like the dish does to our taste buds.

Staring at my soon-to-be lunch reminded me of my mother’s lasagna, which was, of course, much better looking.

“I didn’t like you from behind,” the old man said to me, making some gesture to his bald head.

I turned around again and laughed. I have a white-man’s afro, a head full of curly brown hair that, at the moment, I have let stretch to nearly past my ears, almost hiding on my baby-faced chubby cheeks.

“I get that a lot,” I replied.

Bald men have said something resembling that to me the past two weeks. Just the other day at work, a bald co-worker said he had a photo of himself that looked just like me at his desk. He was serious, he told me when I innocently laughed.

Sliding my tray down the metal spokes, my eyes darted to what was next on this nostalgic return trip to a school cafeteria. My predecessor had spoken highly of this particular cafeteria, namely for its cheap prices, not delicious foods. But, when my source suggested we meet for lunch after the 11 a.m. meeting, I was eager to dine just like I had a teenager.

As in high school, I watched what the person in front of me did: she grabbed a bowl of fruit. I chose the orange cantaloupe, another reminder of an earlier stage of my life.

The old man slunk behind, nudging his tray along.

A few steps farther along, and I plucked a mug for coffee, slid my tray down the homestretch, turned the corner and placed my lasagna, fruit and coffee in front of the female cash register.

It was fairly quick process, although it all seemed so new that it feels like it too much longer. It was like experiencing school lunch once more.

“$3.35,” the woman at the register said.

I happily dug for my wallet and slid out my debit card.

“Oooohhh,” she said, spotting my plastic and not paper. “Only cash.”

Luckily, I had a couple $5 bills snuggling behind some $1 bills.

Paid with a $5 and got change for lunch, but a quarter slid through my fingers.

My source had already paid and walked back to our table near the back of the cafeteria.

“Where’d you get your Italian nose,” the elderly man, who might or might not have had an Italian nose, said.

I have an Italian nose?

“I don’t know,” I said, very perplexed. “I’m, my mom is 100 percent German so I’m 50 percent.”

I squatted to grab the quarter.

“It has the curves and everything,” he said, staring at my nostrils.

The woman working the register saw us talking and posed a question our way: “Is he your grandson?”

Djokovic: Clear No. 2

This time, he needed no heroics, no closing of his eyes to save two match points, no miraculous shots to extend the match.

This time, Novak Djokovic needed three sets of superb play to show the world he has surpassed Roger Federer as the No. 2 player in the world. And with Rafa reeling, maybe this is the year Novak climbs to No. 1.

What a funny start to this tennis season. Just when we all thought Federer was ready to challenge Rafa for No. 1, a new rivalry of 23-year-olds meets in the finals, one that could greet us for the next decade or so: Djokovic v. Andy Murray.

Here, we have the have done, the masterful under pressure, against the have not, the over-thinker in the big matches.

Djokovic against Murray: Two of the game’s best set to better their rivalry as we ring in the 2011 Slam Season.

Just like we predicted, right?

TLT: Sampras can still play

Tennis rules. This much you should know if you’re reading this site. It rules so much that a friend of mine and I have started a site devoted to tennis. Well, Richard created it. I just write stuff for it every now and then.

Like this: The Let Tennis: Sampras can still play

Best. Interview. Ever.

Caroline

CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: Well, yesterday I got the question by the media, they said that my press conferences were kind of boring. Yeah, that I always gave the same answers.

You know, I find it quite, you know, funny because I always get the same questions. So I’m just going to start. I know what you’re going to ask me already. So I’m just going to start with the answer.

I felt great out there today on the court. You know, I think I played a pretty good match. I am happy I got the revenge since I lost to her in Sydney last week. It was not an easy match. She went out there, she was really on fire.

You know, I’m happy to be through to the next round. I don’t know who I’m playing, so maybe you can ask me that afterwards. But I’m really looking forward to playing my fourth round. It’s the second time in a row that that’s happened.

I mean, what I do need to do to win this tournament, if I feel like I played too defensively today. I actually feel like I had to do that. I had to run a lot of balls down today because, I mean, she was playing really aggressively, trying to hit from the first point.

But I felt like, you know, when I had the chance, I was really focused and tried to step it up, especially with my serve a bit. When she put the second serve in, I tried to take the advantage straightaway.

Uhm, if I deserve to be No. 1. If this was maybe another proof that I belong there. Again, I don’t feel any pressure to be No. 1. I really enjoy myself. I think I’ve had a great year and a great tournament so far. So I’m just happy to be in the next round, and hopefully I can pull a win through.

My racquet feels really good (laughter). I feel like the racquet is really helping me out. I feel like there is no problems. I really, uhm, enjoy playing with it. So I feel like, uhm yeah, I’m just happy to be here. Hopefully this was a little bit different than usual, and now you can maybe, yeah, give me some questions that are a little bit more interesting, a little bit different than what I usually get.