Irishbanger, thank you for sharing your story, it is very touching and inspiring.
I hope nobody minds if I share mine, which is similar, but it features a player that some of you hate with a passion. I'll keep it brief as I can...
I have been a 'casual' tennis fans for years, mostly managing to only find Wimbledon and the USOpen on TV during the summer. I have vague memories of Borg and Mac on grass, Tracy Austin in her pink dress in New York and a few Martina-Chrissy battles of the past. I played on my high school team for a year (JV only) but gave it up because I couldn't afford private lessons. I watched Pete win his first USO on TV and tried to follow him as best as I could (he looked a lot like my oldest brother), but due to life and other interests my attention faded in and out over the decade and my racquet collected dust. Around 1996 I started watching again, and the internet helped me to keep track throughout the year, but I was mainly interested in watching Pete (if he wasn't playing, I didn't watch. I missed a lot of good tennis).
I graduated from college in 1998, got a full time job, and proceeded to gain weight (all those lunches in the office cafeteria). I was still watching tennis, especially Pete, who made it look like a form of art in my eyes. Until one day in 2001 when he got beat by this kid from Florida at the Miami Masters. Who is this brat that dared to beat Pete? Two months later that same kid was on my TV again, falling all over the place on red clay, looking like Pigpen from the Peanuts comic strip. He beat Michael Chang! Wow, he has no respect for these legends, does he? Two days later, he was rolling around again, trying to play a match against Hewitt despite being in obvious pain, with his coach waving frantically for him to get off the court... Fast forward to early 2002, the Aus Open, and I am avidly following this kid, looking for his matches, his stats, any info about him. I thought he was exciting, he played tennis like a train wreck, emotions all over the place. And he was rolling around on court again, but this time he twisted his ankle and had to pull out of another match. I found his official website and discovered that he would be playing in San Jose, which isn't too far away. I went to the tournament website to buy tickets, but clicked on the volunteer link instead. My first tournament ever, not only would I see some professional tennis, but I have the opportunity to meet some players and tennis people. Cool.
I drove that kid after he lost his semi-final match to Andre Agassi. He said he should send Andre a check for the tutoring session because he sure taught him a lesson in that match. He was nice enough to talk to his driver during that short trip, make a few jokes, etc. Seemed like a good kid, raised well by his parents. Complete contrast to the other player I met at that tournament (an older American player, rude jerk from New Jersey). Pete Sampras made tennis look like an art form that us mere mortals could never achieve. Andy Roddick made tennis look like a crazy, fun, physical workout that just about anyone could throw their body into. A few weeks later when the weather was nice, I dug my racquet out of the closet and headed up to our community courts to check out the club and take lessons. I met really cool tennis players in my city, I met cool tennis fans on various internet message boards, and I lost weight. I went to more tournaments and met more players and more fans, many of whom have become friends (including that one player from New Jersey who has matured and changed from the rude guy I met in 2002).
So, thank you Andy Roddick. Now get your head together, and stop standing nine feet behind the baseline please.