Andy Roddick won more than 600 tennis matches, but will be remembered for one that he lost. He won 32 titles but will remembered more for the one he didn’t – in light of his retirement I’ve been thinking back to 2009, back a little further to his beginnings and thinking ahead to the future of American tennis.
In 2009 I sat in the departure lounge of Dublin airport on a Friday afternoon watching the Wimbledon semi-final between Andys Roddick and Murray – 2 days later I’d be at my first Wimbledon Final.
The only question should have been who I’d be seeing lose to Federer. But I was raised on tennis romanticism, schooled in the narrative of Goran and Nadal – the whole trip was planned the minute the 2008 final ended (or more likely during one of the many tense tea/rain breaks) and I’d convinced myself that in a little under 48 hours I’d be seeing the first British man since Perry in a Wimbledon final or be seeing Roddick have his moment of revenge and collect the fourth and last of the prizes he set out to capture in tennis.
And on the other side of the net would be maybe the greatest player in the history of the sport with his eyes on a record 15th Slam. Demons, history, records: it was going to be emotional.
* Shock and Awe
Unlikely run to the final – you’ll find that in a lot of the coverage of what happened in 2009, whether it was written at the time or anything written now, but nothing could be further from the truth. In 2009 Andy Roddick was number 6 in the world and with Nadal’s withdrawal from the tournament he was the number 5 seed.
He also just happened to be the guy who was in the two finals that came immediately before Nadal and Federer started their great trilogy. The big man was coming off a quarter-final at the US and a semi-final at the Australian and made a run to the 4th round on clay in Paris (the furthest he’d ever gotten and would ever get at Roland Garros).
This wasn’t unseeded Goran. It shows how strong the Nadal/Federer duopoly was when a sixth seed and twice former finalist is considered a rank outsider.
In any analysis of Andy Murray’s career (at least before this summer) his loss against Roddick was put down to just one of those days when your opponent plays out of his skin – that the semi-final performance was an aberration – that’s incredibly unfair on Roddick and the fact is that the Andy Roddick of 2009 was playing some of the best tennis of his career even before Wimbledon kicked off.
If you want a real shock run try and remember who the fourth semi-finalist was that year?
At 31 years old and seeded 24th he was making the first of two career comebacks (he beat Federer on grass this year after practically 2 years of no tennis) – Tommy Haas.
* Sympathy from the Devil
There are some things I won’t forget about Wimbledon in 2009 – my disgust and disbelief at the number of Americans cheering for Federer, the sheer brutal speed of the Roddick serve (even on the warm up courts), the pandemonium when Sampras arrived in the middle of the match looking like he was auditioning for a role in Men in Black, the gasp of thousands of people when Roddick missed that opening in the second set tie-break and the unshakeable certainty I had the Roddick was not going to be broken, he was going to win.
The other thing I remember is Federer after the win (I took me a long time to forgive him for the classlessness of the gold-emblazoned jacket) and his attempt to cheer Roddick up.
“Don’t be too sad – I’ve been through the rough ones too, one on this court last year”
“Yeah but you’d already won it 5 times”
That’s the piece everyone remembers, but it’s wort reproducing every word – (from at 3.15 in the video above) -
Sue: Andy, certainly played your part, after watching a match like that I just think this sport is so cruel sometimes.
Andy: No. I’m one of the lucky few that get’s cheered for you know? So thank you for that I appreciate that. I just wanna say congratulations to Roger. He’s a true champion and deserves everything he gets. Well done Roger.
Sue: Well you threw everything at him didn’t you?
Andy: Well I tried, sorry Pete, I tried to hold him off. It was a pleasure playing here today in front of great champions like Pete, Manolo, Rod and Bjorn there. I still hope that one day my name will be up there with theirs as a winner of this tournament. And I’ll, I’ll be back.
What a champion. The ovation for Roddick is incredible: most who didn’t want him to win at the start of the day did by the end and with his post match comments and graceful acceptance any lingering die-hards were swayed – everyone wishes Roddick had won, even Federer now when he talks about the match he re-emphaises what he said after the game – luck, unbelievable, a great moment.
A small note on Federer: the man has 7 Wimbledon titles and the last two he’s won he had to deal with a crowd and with coverage that would have rather he lost – in 2009 and 2012 his interview opens with having to praise his opponent and promise the world that they will win Wimbeldon someday. It’s an odd thing to have to be the greatest and constantly apologise for it.
Back to Roddick and back 6 years earlier to his US Open win. Look at this video. Note a few things: the noise unlike anything I’ve heard in New York since, and look at how young Roddick is!
Some ominous words at that presentation ceremony: “stop asking where the next generation of American greatness is coming from, it’s here” and the optimistic declaration that this was his ‘first slam’ – of many was left hanging and unsaid, but implied.
2003 was an odd year and one that people were looking back on this year even before Roddick announced his retirement. It was the last year that four different men won the four grand slams and it’s also sighted as the dawn of a new era of players – Roddick, Federer and JC Ferrero.
What everyone forgets is the guy who won the other slam that year – the three above were the breakout players, the other was Agassi. No really – he utterly demolished Rainer Schuttler in the Australian Open final, at 32, and that wasn’t even his last slam final, he’d show up in New York (of course) in 2005 and a take a set off Federer and push the great one to a tiebreaker in the third.
The passing of the torch seemed almost literal – Agassi and Sampras had fought out a US Open a year earlier, Agassi’s win in Australia – and now Roddick (a double junior champion and Newcomer of the year) had won his first slam.
It must have been so easy to see the sun set on a combined 22 Slam career only to rise with A-Rod. He can’t be blamed for the fact that no-one else joined him in trying to stand in the shadows of a hundred year legacy.
Another reason that 2003 wasn’t quite the clean slate and new era it’s remembered as is that it wasn’t the start for Ferrero, but also the end. Maybe that’s a bit harsh – but the 2003 US Open was Roddicks first slam final and Juan-Carlos’ last. Injury played a part, but after 2003 JC slid out of contention at the majors – only making headline appearances again down through the years to help Spain lift the Davis Cup.
* Fed, Fed changes everything
It’s hard to delineate tennis generations, whether trying to decide which players really count as contemporaries or establish when a new “era” begins. This is particularly hard when you have players like Agassi and Federer that straddle what might otherwise be considered “generations” and players like Nadal who despite being more or less the same age as Novak and Murray has played an extra 100 matches (despite his injuries) due to exploding onto the scene at such and early age.
So keeping that in mind let’s think about the last generation – the one just before the Nadal-Fed-Novak era – there’s a consensus that this was a weak era, an extended pre-season before the squad got properly cut down and results really mattered.
Part of that comes from a desire to sympathise for players like Murray and say that they would have had more success had they only been born a few years earlier, I don’t buy that, but that’s a debate for another day.
Part of it comes from a desire to exaggerate the excellence of the present, we live in a great tennis era – but last night, after one rally was declared “maybe the greatest of all time”, I felt that we’d started to get a bit too fundamentalist about this…and the turn of the century is the infidel in our line of sight.
Why pick on this period specifically? Apropos of nothing it’s worth pointing out that the tennis pundit community doesn’t yet include any champions from this mini-era.
Let’s look at one element of the narrative though – that Federer was the end of the line for a whole generation (the story likes to bundle in Safin, Hewitt, Nalbandian, Haas and a few others to really give it depth). Given that Federer is probably the greatest of all time he’s bound to stand head and shoulders above most of his peers but in the quest to beatify Fed some untruths have been allowed to be told, particularly about Roddick.
Thought experiment – who’s the most dominant clay court player of the Open era? It’s Nadal or Borg right? Then who? If you look at titles you might suggest Kuerten or Wilander, maybe Lendl? This approach, the understandable focus on trophies, overlooks the sheer awesomeness of Federer – four straight final in Paris.
Do the same with Wimbeldon – only 8 men have appeared in as many Wimbledon finals as Roddick, and very few players have appeared in back to back finals. He may not have won Wimbledon, but over the last decade you have to put him behind only Federer and Nadal at SW19.
Extend it a little further: Roddick appeared in a Grand Slam final four years in a row – something Murray, Novak, Hewitt, Safin, Delpo or any other player in the last decade other than Fed and Nadal can’t boast.
So to suggest that Federer’s arrival ended Andy’s career is rough. Yes he had a bad head-to-head record against Federer, but he was there, he kept coming back – after heartbreak, after crushing defeat and in the face of mounting pressure to retire and constant reminders from the press that he was no Sampras, or Agassi, McEnroe, Connors, Courier etc
Murray may have had to deal with the weight of history and the impatience of years of failure, but Roddick had to deal with the pressure of a nation used to winning and with very recent memories of utter tennis dominance.
Yet he bore it well and didn’t quit. ‘Clear Eyes, Full Hearts’
* A real American
That’s a huge part of Roddick’s appeal too – he seems like the nice-guy sport-star college athlete from American TV. The baseball hat, the local hometown pride, the swimsuit model girlfriend, the easy banter with the press – he’s like Tom Brady with a tennis racquet.
And he did the state some service too – leading the charge to the Davis Cup in 2007 (he’s a real World Champion) and playing 45 times for his country.
His last DC match? A loss to David Ferrer in a tie with Spain in the quater-finals last year, played in his home town of Austin, Texas. Poor old Andy never quite seems to get to say goodbye on his own terms.
My last great hope for Andy is that he’ll have one more match. Spain play the US in the Davis Cup semis this week and the winner has a home tie in the final, Spain are without Nadal and you’d have to fancy the US to make it through.
I can appreciate that Andy wanted to go out on his terms, it would be a bit rubbish if his last game ever was against Feliciano Lopez on clay in Seville. This week just seemed right and gave his home crowd a chance to cheer him off.
But there’s a small part of me that he hopes he at least shows his face if the US make the Davis Cup final.
* Big Shoes
So long, and thanks says Mardy Fish.
* Last Words
We’ll leave this with Roddick and echo the words of John Loyd – Roddick had four aims in his career: reach Number 1, win the US Open, win the Davis Cup and win Wimbledon. Three out of four is more than a passing grade in my book and I won’t hold 2009 against him, in fact I thank him for it.
Finally finally – some of that Roddick charm – please note that the footage at the Aussie Open interview is taken after he suffered one of the most absolute dismantlings at the hands of Federer that anyone ever endured. He was good at that triumph and disaster stuff was Roddick.
Thanks big guy.
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This post first appeared on Declan Bruton’s blog.