Andy Roddick might have retired from tennis, but he certainly hasn't retired from ranting.
The former U.S. Open champion took the USTA and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to task on his Fox Sports podcast over his denial of a U.S. Open wild card in doubles with his friend Mardy Fish.
It turns out that Roddick wasn't eligible for competition because he had officially filed his retirement papers and thus had not been entered in the WADA drug-testing program in the past three months, which was the minimum requirement for competition. Since Fish has still not officially filed his retirement papers, he was still cleared to play.
"I kinda got [expletive] in the end of this thing, which I’m not really thrilled about," he said on his podcast with Bill Reiter. "Common sense, it makes no sense whatsoever. It’s nonsensical.”
Roddick's disappointment was understandable, but his anger is misguided. More than that, it's yet another in a long line of examples that proves how little tennis players understand about the doping system they're a part of.
But let's back up for a minute and see how we all got here.
Back in 2012, Roddick abruptly retired from tennis at the U.S. Open. That same year, Fish pulled out before his fourth-round match against Roger Federer at Flushing Meadows in New York due to ongoing problems with his heart that had surfaced that spring.
Since then, Roddick has gone on to have a career in media and World Team Tennis, while Fish attempted a comeback in 2013 but experienced ongoing health complications. He has not played pro tennis since retiring in the third round of the Winston Salem Open last summer.
According to Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times, Roddick saw this as a chance to help his good friend end his career in a positive way:
Roddick was delighted when Fish asked him months ago to play tennis together. Roddick offered his friend an opportunity to rewrite his exit from the sport.
'I kind of just floated the idea: ‘Hey, man, if you ever want to get out there and have a great time and have a great memory, just in case it is the last one, I would play doubles with you at the U.S. Open if you wanted me to,’ Roddick said Tuesday on his podcast for Fox Sports. 'We’ve been friends, we went to high school together, we went through our entire careers as brothers, as Davis Cup teammates, the whole deal. Selfishly, I wanted to see him have an awesome time on a tennis court again.'
After weighing the offer for months, Fish accepted last week.
Nobody can deny that it would have been incredible for Fish, Roddick and tennis as a whole if the two former American No. 1s had been able to play doubles at the U.S. Open this year. But at the end of the day, it's nobody's fault but their own that they weren't able to.
The key statement in the quote above is that Roddick waited for months to see if Fish would accept his offer to play doubles. Had Roddick carefully read the retirement papers that he signed and known that in order to play another pro match he would have to be entered in the WADA program for three months, he could have gone ahead and taken those steps even while waiting for Fish to officially decide.
Yes, paperwork is annoying, and yes, the technicalities behind this rule put Roddick at a distinct disadvantage. Players who haven't filed their retirement papers (such as Patrick Rafter) or players who have filed their retirement paperwork before this rule was established in 2009 (such as John McEnroe) wouldn't have been subjected to the same constraint.
However, this is not a new rule, and it's the same one that existed when Roddick made his retirement official last year. As a professional athlete and a player who has vocally supported the anti-doping program in tennis in the past, Roddick has nobody to blame but himself.
Stephanie Myles of Yahoo Sports explains why it's crucial to keep the stringent rules in place:
But even though Roddick's heart is in the right place, the reason for the rule is fairly obvious: what’s to stop any player from disappearing for awhile, getting off the drug-testing protocols to clean some performance-enhancing drugs out of his or her system, and just jumping right back in once they’re clean?
Doping in tennis has been under the microscope lately, as the extreme lack of both blood tests and overall transparency has caused many to doubt whether the sport is anywhere near as clean as it says it is. In the post-Lance Armstrong world, every anti-doping policy deserves to be scrutinized.
While Roddick is being singled out right now due to recent events, he's far from the only player on the ATP World Tour who doesn't have a firm grasp of the doping rules.
Last year, Viktor Troicki didn't provide a blood sample because he wasn't feeling well and had a needle phobia. He tried to reschedule his test for the next day but was banned for a year by the ITF anyway.
He came back this month, and he still feels like the ITF had it out for him and unfairly singled him out. "The ITF tried to destroy my career and I will never forget what happened," he said, as reported by David Cox of Tennis.com.
While there are nuances to Troicki's case, as there always are, the fact remains that he wasn't familiar enough with the rules to protect himself in that situation.
Tennis is an individual sport. While most Top 100 players have entourages and are used to having the minute-to-minute details of their lives taken care of, at the end of the day it is their body and their career.
If Troicki is as clean as he says he is, of course it's a shame that he had to miss a year of his career and start from scratch. And absolutely nobody benefits from Roddick and Fish sitting on the sidelines if they want to play in the U.S. Open—especially not the USTA.
However, it's up to the players to know the rules, and not up to the anti-doping organizations to bend them.
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