Many headlines dominated this year’s US Open but none was as unexpected as Andy Roddick announcing his retirement. He has been a soldier for American tennis for more than a decade. There has been much hype around him as he came up through the juniors — he was hailed as the next great American hero and had a chance to play with greats like Agassi and Sampras. Heading into his match against Del Potro with retirement on his mind, I hope the American public shows up to cheer him into the next round or send one of the most charismatic players into the next phase of his life. I also hope that they thank him for sustaining a high standard of excellence over such a long timeframe. Here is my list of things I will remember most about Andy Roddick, a great player, an overachiever and one of the most exciting personalities to play the game.
The Serve – This was his weapon and go-to shot, hitting it above 150mph in the peak of his career. The motion, the pace, the kick, were his trademark and won him many matches. As he grew older, the speed started to dip, but ultimately this will be the shot that many will remember. It is not the best serve in men’s tennis, but arguably the fastest and the one stroke that defines his career.
Wimbledon 2004 – His epic run to the final, played on Independence Day (I remember this match well as I was recovering from jaw surgery) was one for the ages. In taking the first set, he played boldly, attacked the ball, took the net and outplayed a visibly nervous Roger Federer. Roger Federer would go on to do something that Andy Roddick was unable to do — defend his Grand Slam title and beat Andy in 4 sets. This was a great match; closer than the final in 2005, but one that validated that Andy Roddick is a strong player on grass.
Wimbledon 2009 – I would argue that this final was the beginning of the end. I do not believe that Andy mentally recovered from this match. In an epic 5-setter, Andy would succumb to Roger again, this time he would have had an opportunity to close it out in the tiebreaker, but Federer was too tough.
Davis Cup 2007 – I do not remember watching this final, but I know I have read several articles outlining Andy’s passion for Davis Cup and the thrill of winning this for the United States. Andy carried the US to a win; he was reliable in singles and relished the pressure. The bench strength of the US men’s team in 2007 pales in comparison to that of the Chang-Sampras-Agassi era; back then you had more American Grand Slam champions who could equally hold their own in a Davis Cup Final. This is why Andy’s ability to win this for the US is so special. He carried this team to a win on pure desire — sure he played well, but he also was the only option to get it done aside from the Bryans.
The Backhand – By far this stroke was the one that was under the most pressure in his career. We’ve seen the slice and the down the line (thanks Stefanki and Connors) and the cross court improve, but by far this stroke was well below the calibre needed to compete for multiple grand slams.
His Rivalry with Roger Federer – No one made Andy look more awkward than Roger. The 2007 Australian Open match is one of their most one-sided wallops. Many will argue that if Andy was in another era, or if Roger Federer did not exist, that it would be to Andy’s benefit. When you consider the serve and forehand were on par if not above it, the other strokes against the field would still come under immense pressure and he would have been hard pressed to win and make another final. Andy did beat Roger leading up to the 2003 US Open and notched another recent win over him, but not in the big matches. They would go on to meet in many finals with Roger taken the prize – 3 Wimbledons (04,05,09) and 1 US Open (06).
His Personality – Running for the ELMO doll in the 2003 Australian Open, the post-match interviews and conferences, the American Express commercials and stints on late night talks shows and SNL will be part of what we will take from Andy’s career as a player. He loved the attention. He also was a leader to many of the up and coming Americans, often being credited for opening up his Austin home and also offering advice to his brethren ahead of big matches. I genuinely believe that there’s nothing fake about what he has shown in this regard and I’m anxious to see what he contributes to the game following his retirement.
It was great to see Andy play his best against Fognini and Tomic; he’s looked great during his swan song. I’m thankful that I got a chance to see him play. He’s great for the sport and I’m happy he has his place in history as he was an overachiever on the court. Eras aside, when you look at the strokes that have defined careers of many champions, you will remember Andy’s serve, and not much as well as being staples of the game. I hope to see him continue to take his energy and passion and give back to the sport that has given him so much. I also hope that the American public respects him as the lone flag bearer to play the game over the past decade. If this magical run were to lead to a title, mirroring Pete Sampras’ 2002 win, it would be well deserved and great to see.