World TeamTennis; Roddick stays active with Lasers

Andy Roddick has been involved with World TeamTennis since 2000. Since then, he has won the U.S. Ope

Andy Roddick has been involved with World TeamTennis since 2000.

Since then, he has won the U.S. Open, reached the No. 1 ranking in the world and retired from the ATP Tour.

He’s consistently stayed involved in the funky pro league, though, with its fan-friendly atmosphere and quirky scoring system that attempts to turn a highly individual sport into a team sport.

Now that he’s off the tour, he has actually increased his involvement in WTT, joining Venus Williams as a part-owner.

And he’s not through playing, either. Roddick will play five matches in five nights for the Springfield Lasers, including Tuesday’s 7:30 p.m. New York Sportimes home opener at the University at Albany’s

SEFCU Arena. The Sportimes open the season on the road tonight at Boston.

“It has to do with my relationship with [WTT co-founder] Billie Jean King and [WTT CEO/president] Ilana Kloss,” Roddick said during a conference call on Tuesday. “They’ve been great supporters of mine, and it was something I wanted to stay involved with. It was a big thing when I was starting out and a springboard that gave me a chance. I was a 17-year-old in Boise, and it was a great tool to learn the game against professional tennis players.”

Besides Roddick, big-name players who will be in Albany are John McEnroe, who will play for the Sportimes on July 18, and Sloane Stephens, who lost in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and will play for Philadelphia against New York next Monday, July 15.

Roddick first played for WTT as a member of the now-defunct Idaho Sneakers.

He retired after last year’s U.S. Open, and has been devoting more time to the Andy Roddick Foundation, which has raised more than $11 million for charity since 2001.

WTT gives him an opportunity to keep slugging away on the court, even if it’s for a brief, hectic span of less than a week.

“I think tennis has a stigma of being a country club sport, and WTT goes the other way,” he said. “It’s small venues, there’s music playing, so it has its own place in the tennis landscape. I’m playing in five distinct markets in five nights, and that’s a blast for me.

“I’ve been hitting a little bit the last couple weeks, and my shoulder feels really good, which is a shock. Who knows? Knowing how aggressive it is and the short sets will help. It is an intense travel schedule, but you’re not going through a three-hour war. It’s short and fun.”

While on the call, Roddick addressed various issues storylines that tennis faces these days, including the emergence of Stephens and the state of the men’s pro game in the U.S.

Between injuries and losses, no American among the 11 in the singles draw made it past the second round for the first time since 1912, when there wasn’t even an American entered in the tournament.

“I’d be lying if I said I had a firm grasp of what’s going on in terms of what the

14- and 15-year-olds in the U.S. are doing,” Roddick said. “I assume the proper steps are being taken to get back to where we should be. Wimbledon was a disappointment, and these guys know they have to step up.”

Meanwhile, the 20-year-old Stephens, daughter of the late New England Patriots running back John Stephens, is stepping up, at least in the Grand Slams this year.

She’s shown herself to be a willing and able interview subject.

“I think it’s great. She’s capable of carrying a story by herself now,” Roddick said. “You need good players, but you also need players who can carry a story. One thing I’m impressed with is how composed she is. When she won in the fourth round, she looked like she expects to win.”

The primary storyline heading into the WTT season is the 32-match winning streak by the Washington Kastles, which includes victories in the championship match the last two seasons.

The Sportimes nearly ended it last season when they led the Kastles by six games with one set left, but Williams sparked a comeback by beating Martina Hingis in overtime. Hingis will play for Washington this season.

The Sportimes will get the first crack at the Kastles when they play at Washington in the Kastles’ season opener on Monday.

Roddick’s team will play Washington on Thursday.

“I’d love to be part of ending it,” he said. “It’s an impressive streak because the WTT is so unique with the scoring. The franchise is similar to the Lakers, with apologies to Boston. It’s certainly noteworthy.”

The Los Angeles Lakers won 33 straight games during the 1971-72 season.

The Sportimes will be coached by Claude Okin, who co-founded the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in 2010, for the first time.

Besides McEnroe, the roster includes Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany and Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic, who teamed up to reach the Wimbledon women’s doubles semifinals before losing to Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua of Australia on Friday.

Also playing for the Sportimes will be Robert Kendrick, a member of the Sportimes’ 2005 championship team, and Jesse Whitten, who reached the third round of the 2009 U.S. Open before losing to Novak Djokovic.

The Sportimes will play five matches at SEFCU: Tuesday (Springfield, Roddick); Friday (Philadelphia); July 15 (Philadelphia, Stephens); July 16 (Boston); and July 18 (Orange County, McEnroe).

The other two home matches will be played on Randall’s Island in New York City.

All matches will begin at 7:30.

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