Andy Roddick: Passing the Baton
Roddick leaves an indelible mark as he moves on from his career as a pro tennis player.
Over the course of the past 13 seasons, the tennis world learned to love Andy Roddick, the professional player, who was blessed with flair, intelligence and star power.
By giving himself wholly to the sport, he finished in the Top 10 of the South African Airways ATP Rankings for nine straight years (2002-2010). His charisma and gravitas, character and engaging personality enabled him to absorb the highs and lows of life as one of the most successful, influential and quotable players in professional tennis.
For more than a decade, ever since he won the 2000 Australian Open and US Open junior titles, he played with pressure and expectation. As the poster boy of American tennis, the implications of Andre Agassi’s retirement after the 2006 US Open were not lost on Roddick, who, as a keen tennis historian, was already the most-talked-about singles player from the United States, a nation fuelled on the exploits of great tennis champions since the 1920s.
Roddick’s love for the sport developed after he celebrated his eighth birthday with a first visit to the US Open in 1990, when he weaved his way into the players’ lounge, without a credential, to beat that year’s champion Pete Sampras at a video game. Aged 21, Roddick finished with three straight aces against Juan Carlos Ferrero to clinch his only Grand Slam championship title at the 2003 US Open on the same court, where, 12 months earlier, Sampras had lifted his 14th major trophy before retiring. The baton of American tennis had been passed.
The triumph, in one of his five major final appearances, paved the way to him becoming No. 1 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings on 3 November 2003. His tenure as World No. 1 was short-lived – 13 weeks in total - as Roger Federer began to emerge as one of the greatest players in tennis history.
The foundations of Roddick’s game lay in his devastating serve – one was timed at 155 mph in a 2004 Davis Cup tie – and his fluent forehand. As a great thinker and problem-solver, he went onto develop his backhand and net game under the guidance of three expert coaches, Brad Gilbert, Jimmy Connors and Larry Stefanki.
Roddick won 32 tour-level singles titles, including five ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crowns, and four times finished runner-up to Federer in Grand Slam finals: Wimbledon (2004-'05 and '09) and US Open ('06). Arguably, his most devastating loss came three years ago when he lost 16-14 in the fifth set at the All England Club and left Centre Court with the gallery chanting his name. As a patriotic American he led the nation to its 32nd Davis Cup victory over Russia in 2007. His 33 singles rubber wins in the competition for the United States is second only to John McEnroe's 41.
Roddick maintained his place in the world’s Top 10 until 25 July 2011, when long-standing injuries – knees, ankles, shoulder and back – and more than 800 matches started to take their toll on his body after years of keeping pace with Federer, Rafael Nadal and, latterly, Novak Djokovic’s brand of power tennis and athleticism.
On the court, he always battled to the final ball. But while his passion for the sport is just as intense, Roddick decided to announce his retirement on his own terms, on 30 August, the occasion of his 30th birthday, in favour of a new life chapter with his wife, Brooklyn Decker.
He is expected to play more of a hands-on roll with the Andy Roddick Foundation, established in 2001, which has raised more than $10 million for charities to provide children in need with quality education and economic opportunities. Countless random acts of kindness have never made it to the public domain.
Bright and astute, Roddick already hosts a nationally syndicated weekly sports radio show, while his television appearances – including as guest host of NBC’s Saturday Night Live in November 2003 – and shrewd financial investments mean that he’ll do fine out of the tennis world, which will mourn his absence.