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Roddick's legacy greater than Slams
With Andy Roddick it was always so much more than titles. It was about impact and presence; about a record of excellence during an entire decade that made him one of America's most effective and committed athletes; it was about the quick quip and the big smile.
In announcing his retirement, which takes effect whenever he loses here at the US Open, Roddick chose the right moment and explained it in the right way.
"I just feel like it's time," he said. "I don't know that I'm healthy enough or committed enough to go another year. I've always wanted, in a perfect world, to finish at this event. I've thought all year that I would know when I got to this tournament. When I was playing my first round, I knew."
Unsurprisingly, he said that he was not someone who was interested in just existing on the tour. His current ranking is 22 but it dropped to around 30 a few months ago, and that does not hack it for a man who finished in the world's top 10 for nine consecutive years and, by winning at Eastbourne and Atlanta this year, completed 12 consecutive years with at least one ATP title.
Forget the fact that the 2003 US Open was his only Grand Slam title – we are talking Roger Federer figures here. There are sports fans who appreciate this kind of achievement and others of a more mindless kind who wail about finishing second not being good enough. Maybe they missed Roddick's heroics against Federer in his third Wimbledon final in 2009. Finishing second, by the width of a missed volley that day, made him a hero and a competitor of the highest order.
But, when pressed on the subject, Roddick wouldn't pick one or two moments from a career that began in 2000. "I've had a lot of different memories. I will certainly look back. But I feel like I'd be cheating the other memories if I said one was the highlight. You know, I feel like I've been very lucky. That's certainly not lost on me."
Because his humor tends toward the sarcastic and silly questions get short thrift from a man with a sharp brain, Roddick's generosity as a competitor has often been overlooked. Over the past few years, he has been a stout defender of Federer, his great rival who stopped him in those three Wimbledon finals, when critics tried to suggest that the Swiss was on the decline. Roddick just laughed at them and insisted Roger was far from finished. And now Federer is No 1 again.
We noticed how he left the stage at Wimbledon this year, after losing to David Ferrer, turning for an extra look at the Centre Court and a wave that appeared awfully final. And it was. "On some big moments this year, I think I've known," he said. "Walking off at Wimbledon I felt like I knew. Playing here, I don't know what it was. I couldn't imagine myself being here another year. I've always, for whatever my faults, felt like I've never done anything halfway. I don't want to disrespect the game by coasting home."
Roddick will go home to Austin, Texas, to his wife, Brooklyn Decker, and his dog and work with his Foundation, a youth tennis and learning center in the city and continue to build a career as a host on a sports radio show. But he will play, too. "I don't think I'm one of those guys who won't pick up a racquet for three years. I still love the innocent parts of the game. I love hitting tennis balls. I'll miss the relationships probably the most. As time passes, I'll probably miss the tennis more."
And tennis will miss him. Twenty-two years ago, his parents brought him to Flushing Meadows for the first time as a present for his eighth birthday and he snuck into the players' lounge without a credential. Today it was his 30th birthday – young for an athlete to depart, but there is mileage on those legs and wear and tear on that shoulder and he listens to his body.
So, it's farewell. But not forever. Whenever Jim Courier decides to pass on the Davis Cup captaincy, Andy Roddick will be waiting.