Friday, September 28, 2012

Andy Roddick: A Legend Retires

                “Let’s hope it’s not bookends.” That was Andy Roddick this July after winning a tournament in Atlanta, the same place that he won his first title. Sadly it was bookends; the 2012 Atlanta Open was the last championship that Andy won, the 32nd of his career, including at least one every year since his first. Andy retired at this year’s U.S. Open, the site of his only major. He was probably the best server of all time, holding all kinds of serving records, including fastest serve ever (155mph) until recently. He also was well know for his charitable work, the Andy Roddick Foundation. He was a grand slam champion and a world #1. He went on to play in four more grand slam finals, but he will be remembered as much for his quick wit and honest personality as his tennis. Andy struggled with injuries late in his career, but you would never know it, unlike so many athletes Andy never played up an injury. Always known for his candor, on the court Andy would argue with the umpire if he felt he was being shortchanged, or even if his opponent was. Andy Roddick’s press conferences and post-match interviews were the stuff of legend, they were always hilarious, intelligent and brutally honest. After his last match a reporter asked him what he would miss most and Andy jokingly replied, “All of you.”
                A good tennis player can be judged by how many tournaments he has won, the all-time greats however are often measured by their grand slams. For those that don’t know there are four grand slams; the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open.  In 2003 the era of great American tennis was coming to an end. Andre Aggassi and Pete Sampras had 20 majors between the two of them and their final titles came back to back, with Sampras winning the last major in 2002 (US) and Agassi winning the first in 03 (Australian). The rest of 2003 saw a changing of the guard, the young Spaniard Juan Martian Ferrero won the French, and Rodger Federer won his first slam at Wimbledon. The stage was set for a dramatic end to the tennis season at the U.S. Open. Defending champion Pete Sampras had retired and Aggassi had been beaten in the semis by French champion Ferrerro. Ferrerro had one more American to face in the final however, Andy Roddick. Roddick beat Ferrero in straight sets to win the U.S. Open and cemented himself as the greatest current American tennis player. For nearly a decade Roddick was the only great American tennis player.
For a few years the only other tennis player even in the conversation to compete for a major was the aging Andre Aggassi, but soon enough he also retired. From then on Andy Roddick became the “Sole American Man.”  In fact since Aggassi’s retirement in 2006 no American male other than Roddick has made it past the quarterfinal of any grand slam. Roddick was a man alone; the burden was his to bear. This was a sharp contrast to the era directly preceding Roddick. The 90s were a golden age for American tennis; other than Aggassi and Sampras grand slam champions like Jim Courrier and Micheal Chang were dominate. Even the ancient slam winner Jimmy Conners made a miraculous run at the 1991 U.S. Open. The timing of the disappearance of American greats couldn’t have been worse for one reason. That reason’s name was Rodger Federer.
When Roddick and Federer won back to back slams in 2003 it seemed they both would have bright futures. Both did end up having bright futures, but no one could have predicted how bright Federer’s would be. Rodger Federer probably was the most dominate player in the history of individual sports. From 2004 until 2007 Federer won the U.S. Open, the Australian Open and Wimbledon every time except for once, that’s 11/12 slams (other than the French which is played on clay, Federer and Roddick’s worse surface). Charles Barkley famously joked that his mother should have had him five years earlier so that he could have avoided Michal Jordan’s reign and won a championship. I wouldn’t be the first to relate Andy’s situation with Federer to Barkley’s statement. After his win at the U.S. in 2003 Andy went on to play in four more finals, three at Wimbledon and another U.S., and every time he met Rodger Federer. If it wasn’t for Federer who knows how many grand slams Andy would have won? He likely would have stolen a few more U.S. Opens, as well as multiple Wimbledon championships. It’s safe to say that he would have gotten at least one Australian too, where Federer knocked him out in the semi-finals on more than one occasion. But I should stop making excuses for Andy; after all he never made excuses for himself.
Either way Andy’s fate has always been and probably always will be liked to his great nemesis Rodger Federer. In the press conference where Andy announced his retirement a reporter noted that both Andy and Federer were 30 and Andy replied, “I didn’t want to make it through this press conference without a direct comparison to Rodger, so thank you for that.” In fact what many consider to be Andy’s greatest tennis match ever, and one of the best tennis finals ever played, was against Rodger Federer. In 2009, three years after his last final Roddick made it to his second Wimbledon final. The match was truly epic, both men seemed unbeatable. At 77 games it was the longest grand slam final ever played, the final set alone was an amazing 30 games, with both Roddick and Federer refusing to give an inch. Roddick remained unbroken on serve until the final game of the match. Roddick’s determination and drive even in defeat won him untold more fans, especially in England. Even Duchess Pippa Middelton came to watch his match while Brit Andy Murray was making a (successful) title run a few courts over.
In his last two tournaments Andy wore shoes with the American flag on them, rather appropriate considering that he had big shoes to fill for American tennis. For years Andy carried the banner of American tennis by himself, and now with his retirement there are sadly no more truly great Americans, and it may be a long time before another arrives. Andy Roddick was one of the greatest to ever play the game. He was also one of the smartest and genuinely funny athletes I've ever seen. In this age athletes lie and deceive any chance they get, it’s even considered part of the culture in some sports, but Andy Roddick was honest to a fault. He wouldn’t sugar coat things he felt were unfair, or if he felt like he was asked a stupid question at a press conference.
I leave you with this, a press conference of one of Andy’s worst defeats, the semi-final of the 07 Australian Open, where he was crushed by Federer. It shows his honesty, his disappointment at defeat, his wit, and his snarky and sarcastic nature. Most of all it shows his willingness to never back down.
He also married Brooklyn Decker, pictured below:

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