By Jane Voigt
August 31, 2012 — It’s seem fitting, in an odd way, that Andy Roddick’s pending retirement came on his 30th birthday and on the heels of Kim Clijsters’ exit, which she announced months ago.
Andy wouldn’t have planned a retirement tour with all that associated fanfare he’d put himself and others through. He would simply wig out; he’s a jumpy guy – and admits as much. Ever watch him bite his nails incessantly on the sideline at Davis Cup ties?
Therefore when he called a press conference last evening out of nowhere, Roddick delivered the news quickly and earnestly, “I’ll make this short and sweet. This is going to be my last tournament.”
That Roddick chose New York to pronounce his departure made sense. He won his first and only major title in 2003 at The U. S. Open. And, he elevated night-time tennis TV to prime-time statistics.
Many will recall when he over-ran a backhand in one of his first night matches. He ended up climbing into the stands then high-fiving dozens of thrilled fans before he sauntered to the baseline for the next point. Oh, yeah … he stared down his opponent like any cocky, confident up-and-coming American tennis star would in his house … Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Back then, his first appearance in New York was 1999, he wore a silly-looking visor, spiked his hair and wore Reebok clothing. Nicolas Almagro has to be the only player wearing Reebok now. Nike, adidas, Lacoste — Andy’s current clothing sponsor — have swarmed the tour with more lucrative deals.
And just like these new labels rushed on the scene so the toll from hundreds of pounding court hours over 12 years began to take their toll mentally and physically on Andy Roddick.
“Probably the first time in my career that I can sit here and say I’m not sure that I can put everything into it physically and emotionally,” he told the press at the USTA Media Center. “I don’t know that I want to disrespect the game by coasting home.”
Andy’s imprint on the game will never disappear. He was a capital change agent.
His game was carved from a wicked serve, which he discovered by happenstance during practice. He thought, why not try this? KA-BOOM! The motion is all Andy. Fast, lethal and in your face.
He still holds the record for fastest recorded serve – 155 mph – from the 2004 Davis Cup tie.
The big serve married his big forehand. They lived happily ever after as one of the ATP Tour’s dominant villains.
Roddick’s one-two punch was feared from the moment he turned pro in 1998. By 2001 he was the youngest player in the top 20. Two years later he won The U. S. Open and closed out the year as the youngest number-one player in the history of the ATP tour rankings (1973).
Commentators couched their match projections, “if Roddick’s serve’s on there’s no way this-and-such has a chance.”
His-way-or-the-highway tennis show won Roddick a least one title every year for 12 successive years. He shares this record with only one other player — Roger Federer.
Roger Federer, though, kept the lid on Andy’s accomplishments in majors as the Swiss did for all other players during 2004-2008.
Roddick was second-man three times to Federer at Wimbledon; their 2009 match that ended when Federer broke the American for the first and only time throughout the five set drama is the standout. Federer took set five, 16 to 14 games.
In tennis terms, this fact is remarkable — Andy broke Federer twice, but lost. Federer won two tiebreak sets, yet Andy took sets one and four because he broke Roger’s serve.
John McEnroe believes that match hit Roddick hard, that he has never fully climbed out of the disappointment pit.
Roddick played at the cutting edge of technological changes in racquet composition and string choices, too. The onset of lighter sticks strung with polyester strings expanded the game in every conceivable direction and allowed players to hit out as hard as they could without losing control.
Baseline tennis usurped deft and pretty tennis. Fitness began to consume training regimes. The gym was frequented more than practice courts because balls flew at Mach 1. You still had to get to the ball to make a difference. Explosive legs carried you there or home. Make the choice.
And as with any generation, youthful competition that had learned to hit ‘like Andy’ caught up with those that ushered it in. Andy’s two weapons diminished in the eyes of kids raised on power and fitness.
He will leave the game having accumulated 32 ATP career titles. He lead his Davis Cup team to victory in 2007 and has 33 wins, second overall, for the United States. He kept his berth in the top ten for eight years running. Again, only Federer has the right to that distinction.
He also leaves behind mini-Andy’s, just as Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi shaped Roddick’s.
Big John Isner is one.
He wears boxy, over-sized Lacoste shirts that billow every time he smacks a serve. And all that twitching between serves. The sleeve adjustments are Isner’s habits, too. Thank goodness, though, that the six-ten North Carolina man doesn’t ape Andy’s front-side pick. Very unbecoming from any angle or nation.
Andy was cranky and miserable at times on court, too. He let his emotions carry him to extremes. He spoke choice words to chair umpires, and was thrown warnings and fined. His best tennis was during the calm.
At the Sony Ericsson Open in 2010, Roddick was calm as he defeated Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. He had the Nadal puzzle perfectly solved. Andy threw the Spaniard’s rhythm to the wind, introducing such variety that he had no tactical responses. The following day Roddick defeated Berdych in the final. This was one of Roddick’s hottest spring. He lead the ATP in matches won.
Roger Federer might have been one of Roddick’s most painful thorns, but he couldn’t ask for a better lead man. Last night after making his way to the 3rd round, Federer beseeched fans to come out (Friday night) and ‘make some noise for Andy.’ Roger told fans that it would be good for Andy and good for Bernard Tomic. ‘He’ll learn from it.’
The match begins at 7 p.m. on ESPN2, in the United States. Be there. The house will rock.