The patrons of a suburban St. Louis Waffle House nearly choked on their breakfasts last Thursday morning when Andy Roddick walked into the joint, accompanied by Mardy Fish and Bob and Mike Bryan. If the sight of four tennis pros in eastern Missouri wasn't unusual enough, there was Fish's attire: a diaphanous green skirt. "I played Mardy the night before in St. Paul," Roddick explained, "and we agreed that the loser would have to wear that thing." So it went last week, on the My Ride Bus Tour.
December is Exhibition Month for pro tennis players, the time to make big bucks playing meaningless matches in arenas and amphitheaters. The four Americans, fresh from playing in the Davis Cup finals, added a twist to this ritual. They rented a tour bus sufficiently tricked out to make the Madden Cruiser look like Jeff Spicoli's dilapidated van--replete with three plasma TVs, six double beds and a deluxe kitchen--and spent a week driving through the guts of Middle America. My Ride started in the Twin Cities, wended south to Memphis and Mobile and then doubled back to Nashville.
Along the way the quartet played hit-and-giggle "exos," made surprise appearances at public tennis complexes, where they held clinics, played Xbox and poker until the sun came up and generally comported themselves like Alpha Tau Phi brothers on a winter-break road trip. After the Bryans, perhaps the world's best doubles team, defeated Roddick and Fish one night, the losers had to perform footwork drills. On the shoulder of Interstate 94. At 3 a.m. In their boxers. "I would tell you it was cold," says Roddick, who had parted ways with coach Brad Gilbert earlier in the week. "But that really wouldn't do it justice."
There was a noblesse oblige component to the bus tour as well. "We thought this was a way to bring tennis to the people," says Roddick. "We're not the NBA or the NFL with this huge marketing machine behind us. It's not like there's a home crowd you know will come to all the games. In tennis a lot of [the promotion] is up to the individual players." --L. Jon Wertheim
TWO COLOR PHOTOS
RON C. ANGLE/BEIMAGES.NET (2: RODDICK; RODDICK, FISH AND KIDS)
Roddick (right) and Fish wowed the kids in Mobile.