Yesterday in New York, former world number 1 Andy Roddick announced he would retire from the game following the end of the US Open. Roddick, 30, announced his decision prior to playing his 2nd round match against 19 year old Australian Bernard Tomic.
And so how do we look back on Roddick’s career?
He is one of only 25 men to have held the Number 1 spot since the ATP ranking began in 1973. He only held it for 13 weeks, which sounds like very little, but when you consider Boris Becker held it only for 12 weeks, it doesn’t seem do bad. However Becker of course won 6 Grand Slam titles – 3 at Wimbledon, 2 Australian Opens and 1 US Open. Roddick has only one Grand Slam title to his name – the 2003 US Open.
When you look at Roddick you see a career that was destroyed by the Federer Express more than any other. His lone Grand Slam title came in between Federer winning the 2003 Wimbledon and the 2004 Australian Open. After winning that 2004 title, Federer took over the number one spot and held it for the next 237 weeks. In the mean time Roddick found himself hitting a wall every time he played Federer.
Just before the 2003 US Open Roddick beat Federer in the semi finals of the Cincinnati Masters (Roddick would win the title). Federer then beat Roddick the next 11 times they played each other. Six of those times were finals, 3 of which were Grand Slam finals, 2 of which were Wimbledon Finals. After finally beating Federer in Miami in 2008, Federer then beat him the next six times – one of which was the 2009 Wimbledon final.
But one thing you can say about Roddick is that he lasted for a long time.
When Roddick took over the Number 1 spot from Juan Carlos Ferrero on 3rd November 2003, here were the top 50 men:
Twenty nine of them no longer play, 8 are no longer in the top 100. At that time a young Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic had been on the tour for 15 and 17 weeks respectively. Murray was the number 544 in the world, and Djokovic was ranked 680.
It is almost a different era. Except of course it was about to be the start of the Federer era – and era which in some respects is still ongoing. Federer today said of Roddick:
We’ve seen so many different champions go out in different ways and I am so happy for him (Roddick). Some expected better (from his career), some expected worse, but I am sure he’s happy with what he achieved because he almost achieved everything he ever wanted. Maybe the Wimbledon title potentially, but let’s forget about that.
He was in those Wimbledon finals, he could have got those titles and that’s what I said when I beat him in ’09 – he deserves this title as well.
In my mind he is a Wimbledon champ as well and a wonderful ambassador of the game. And I am thankful for everything he’s done for the game and especially here for tennis in America.’
That is kind, and truly the 2009 Wimbledon Final that Federer won 16-14 is a contender for the greatest match of all-time, but everyone knows they only give the title to the bloke who wins the final match and Roddick never did that at Wimbledon.
To compare him to Federer is perhaps unfair. It’s a bit like saying of a playwright who has won a Pulitzer Prize, “Look you write well, but when I compare you to Shakespeare…”. But then that is the nature of sport – especially tennis which is mano-a-mano.
Roddick was a player who came up at the time when the big serve was still the big weapon. His was huge and had he been born 5 years earlier it might have brought him 4 or 5 more Grand Slam titles. But as Jim Courier (I think) said of him, when playing Federer, once the rally went more than 5 shots, Roddick might as well hit the ball in to the stands.
And it’s not like Roddick didn’t see it coming. In the third time they ever met in Basel in 2002, Federer beat Roddick 7-6, 6-1 and reeled off one of the more amazing selection of winners to break Roddick for the 2nd time in the second set. You don’t need to speak the language of the commentators to understand what they’re saying:
Perhaps though the bigger shame is that Roddick outside of Wimbledon only made it to 2 Grand Slam finals. He never made it past the 4th round of the French Open, and he made it to the semi-finals of the Australian Open 4 times – losing to Raineer Schuttler in 2003, Leyton Hewitt in 2005 and Federer in 2007 and 2009. Oddly he made it to the US Open final twice (winning once) but never made it to the semi final in any of the other 10 times he played it.
For me however the match I most recall of Roddick’s is the quarter finals of the 2003 Australian Open that he played against Younes El Aynaoui which he won 21-19 in the 5th set. It was one of those long night matches that seems to always happen at the Aus Open and it ended well into the morning. The fifth set went for 2 hours 23 minutes, and was then the longest fifth set in the open era.
At the time I thought Roddick a brash American and wasn’t really sold on him. But his play and demeanour after the victory won me over and his regular banter each year with Jim Courier at the Australian Open and his prickliness but also honesty with journalists at post match press conferences I found refreshing. He truly played with his heart on his sleeve and that sleeve was usually wet with sweat.
It is easy to suggest Roddick should have achieved more, but given the incredible era in which he played – in which two of the very greatest of all time in Nadal and Federer dominated, it is hard to think he underachieved. Since the 6th August 2001 the highest he has been ranked in the world is 34th – which was for a week in March this year. He is no journeyman, he was in the top 10 give or take the odd week or 3 he fell to number 11 or 12 from August 2002 to August 2011. He reached the top 10 a couple weeks prior to his 20th birthday.
That’s a career to die for. (And by comparison, Tomic is also a few weeks short of his 20th birthday is ranked 43 in the world)
He carried the men’s game in America for all of that time. Since the 2001 French Open he has only missed 2 Grand Slam tournaments.
(8 is a win, 7, Finalist; 6, Semi; 5, Quarter Finalist)
It is good for him to go now – when he is still a threat to get to the final 8 if not the final.
And if he goes out now, he’ll always be able to look back to the last time he played Federer. It was in Miami this year. Roddick had played well to take the first set in a tie breaker. In the second Federer took over and won 6-1. In the third Roddick was down break points early in the set and the standard operating procedure looked about to take place. But Roddick held by playing some outrageous forehands. He then broke Federer in the next game by absolutely creaming 4 shots in a row. Federer was completely stunned and the match was gone as Roddick continued to hit winner after winner.
He won the set 6-4 and took their head to head record to 3-21.
Roddick might occasionally wish he had been born in another time, but he was a big part of this era, even while his game seemed to belong more to the 1990s.
As much as anything if Roddick was playing you’d stop to watch it, because you knew you’d see an honest match from a guy who left it all on the court. The sweat would pour off his body – literally dripping onto the court. Every match was a battle to the death – an attribute he shares with Leyton Hewitt (and to be honest all other great players). For that reason alone it’s hard to think he underachieved. And given the way he took apart Tomic today 6-3, 6-4, 6-0, it is the attribute of Roddick’s of which his younger opponent perhaps should most seek to emulate.