Unfortunately, he seems to think the rules shouldn't apply to him.
The idea was an inspired one and, as Roddick said, would provide a great American story in the early days of the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 25.
Roddick wanted Fish, currently ranked No. 524, to have fun on the tennis court again. After a late-career surge that finally had the 32-year-old reaching the potential everyone always thought he had, he has been taken out of the game by a situation out of his control – a heart issue and some related health problems.
Roddock also thought it could be a springboard for Fish to get back into the game — or at the very least, to say goodbye in a more appropriate way. Fish's most recent match was at a U.S. Open warmup tournament in Winston-Salem last August, where he retired when down 2-3 in the third set to Jarkko Nieminen in the second round.
Roddick put it out there, Fish gave it some thought, and late last week gave the idea the thumbs up.
In Tuesday’s Fox Sports live podcast (his rant on this is here, starting about 24 minutes in), Roddick said he was “pumped.”
“I thought I’d probably have to get back into the drug testing thing that we have to do. Make yourself available. Tennis has one of the most stringent drug testing policies in all of sports, which is a great thing,” he said. “It sucked, there were times I didn’t like it but it was fair.”
Except right now, when the rules won’t allow his idea to become reality.
When tennis players retire, they have two options. The first is just to stop playing and watch their ranking plummet down the charts every week until 12 months go by, no ranking points remain on the computer, and they fall off the back end.
The other is to file official retirement papers, at which point their name is immediately removed form the rankings list. That’s what Roddick did; his official retirement date is Feb. 16, 2013.
He said he “did what they wanted him to do”, that his ranking was still in the mid-20s at that time and with a lot of players having bonuses in their contracts for reaching certain ranking milestones – i.e., the top 50 – he’d hate to be the guy who left a player out of the money at No. 51 because his own name was still nominally on the list.
The problem with that is that once you are officially retired, there’s a procedure to follow to be reinstated.
Here’s the rule, which Roddick could have looked up on the ITF site.
“The following players may not return to compete in a Covered Event unless he/she has made him/herself available for Out-of-Competition Testing (by notifying the ITF of his/her intent to return and by making him/herself available for Testing) for at least three months prior to the Covered Event in question. These include, but are not limited to, Grand Slams, Davis Cup, Fed Cup, ATP events, WTA Tour events, Men’s Challengers, ITF Junior and Pro Circuits, Olympics.”
That means Roddick would have had to let them know by May 25, which obviously has come and gone.
Or, he could follow me on Twitter.
He tried, Roddick said. With the help of the USTA's Tim Curry, he said he reached out to the alphabet soup of tennis organizations: the ITF, the ATP, the USTA, and WADA, the World Anti-Doping Association, to seek an exception.
Fish talked about it to USA Today Sports. In essence, he said much the same thing but with a far softer tone.
“I’m not eligible for a US Open wild card, which (expletive) sucks because I was looking forward to it on a lot of different levels,” Roddick said on the podcast. He pointed out that John McEnroe, who never officially retired, could just come back on short notice and play if he wanted to, even though he’s fallen out of the drug-testing program because he doesn’t have a ranking.
Incidentally, he’s right about McEnroe, but he’s wrong about why. The rule only came into place in 2009, and earlier retirees are grandfathered in. Even if McEnroe had officially retired, he could still do it; another former great, Pat Rafter, played in the Australian Open doubles with Lleyton Hewitt earlier this year.
“Frankly, if common sense won in this one … I passed 14 years of tests during my career, filed the papers that you wanted me to file because it makes things easier. I kind of got (expletive) in the end in this thing, which I’m not really thrilled about. It’s nonsensical,” he said on the podcast. “I get the rule in place. I feel like there should be maybe an appeals process. If I’m going to do performance-enhancing drugs and make a comeback, it’s not going to be for one doubles tournament at the U.S. Open.”
It would have been great fun; the crowd would have enjoyed it, and Roddick and Fish would have enjoyed it even more.
He said the two had talked about playing doubles together at the U.S. Open since they were 15 years old but because of their singles careers, somehow they never got around to it. Most of the top players don’t play doubles at Grand Slams because with the best-of-five set format in singles, it's too much.
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?
There's no reason to doubt Roddick's word. Still, it’s astonishing that he thinks they really should just take his word for it. What's not astonishing is that he really didn’t know what was involved in returning to the game, even for a one-timer – although he could have Googled it. He’s firmly and irrevocably retired, so it wasn't something he needed to know.
But he came off as whiny, which may be quite the sports talk-radio thing but seems below a man who brought so much to American tennis.
If you think it's unfair, and want to add your voice and try to do something about it, a petition has been started on Roddick's behalf at change.org.
As an aside, it’s worth pointing out that first-round doubles losers at the U.S. Open split $12,500. That may be pocket change to Roddick, who earned more than $20 million on court in his career and is still earning with his work at Fox, but it might mean significantly more to a young wild-card team that would be cut out of that spot in their stead.
Another aside,: Roddick and Fish had a pretty brutal doubles record together after playing some Challengers when they were just starting out.
Since the ATP Tour event in Hamburg in 2003, the pair has teamed up 11 times.
They won Indian Wells together in 2009. But five times, they lost in the first round. The other five times, they defaulted during the event.
One of those, the Rome final in 2011 against countrymen John Isner and Sam Querrey, was especially dramatic. Roddick also felt they should take his word then, on a shoulder injury, and that an exception to the rules should be made for partner Fish to get the finalist's prize money. He even said the ATP stood for the "Association of Tie People," which actually was a pretty hilarious line.
If the two really want to team up and give the fans some fun, they could always do it on the Challenger circuit. Obviously it's not the same but Mark Ein, the 49-year-old uber-wealthy owner of the Washington Kastles World Team Tennis franchise, teamed up with Jesse Witten at a Challenger in Lexington, Kentucky last week. They got a wild card.
It's the sixth Challenger Ein has played in the last five years. He has won two matches – both when his opponents retired.