Emotional Roddick puts cap on career

One US Open champion played another on Arthur Ashe Stadium in the late afternoon sunshine. Having announced his retirement last week, Andy Roddick finally bowed out of pro tennis for good when he lost his rain-interrupted match with Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina 6-7(1), 7-6(4), 6-2, 6-4.

It was a good way to go.

One US Open champion played another on Arthur Ashe Stadium in the late afternoon sunshine. Having announced his retirement last week, Andy Roddick finally bowed out of pro tennis for good when he lost his rain-interrupted match with Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, 6-7(1), 7-6(4), 6-2, 6-4.

There was a moment early on, when Roddick picked up from 1-0 in the first set tiebreak overnight and reeled off six of the next seven points, that a little light flickered and there were thoughts of a dream run to the quarterfinals. But del Potro was too good for that. His ground strokes carried too much penetration and, even though Roddick tried his best to get in and disrupt del Potro's rhythm, it was not to be.

So there were tears from supporters who had shouted themselves hoarse and a lump in Roddick's throat as he tried to formulate words on court. He was still emotional by the time he got into a packed press room to be greeted by Bud Collins, breaking the rules and asking for a round of applause. It was willingly offered for a man who has never allowed the media to be bored in his company.

"You know playing the last five games was pretty hard," Roddick said. "Once I got down a break, I could hardly look at my box. I don't know what the emotions are. I'm a little overwhelmed right now."

Not for the first time these past few days, Roddick insisted that he had never taken any of it for granted and that his consistency and refusal to leave anything on the table as far as effort was concerned was what he was most proud of. But these last few days had been different.

"Like I said, this was all new for me," he said. "I had seen most things that this game had to offer, and this was entirely new. It was emotional but not emotional like we normally have it. It's normally a very selfish emotion for us. If we do badly, then it costs us, and if we do well, we get great things. This was about something bigger. It wasn't about ranking points or paychecks. It was fun. This week, I felt like I was a 12-year-old playing in a park. It was extremely innocent."

Perhaps like I had watched him play on the public courts at Wimbledon Park, just across the road from the All England Club. He was older than 12, to be sure, but still a teenager and had just reached the third round at the Championships. But the next day, his agent and great friend, Ken Meyerson, who died so tragically in October of last year, took him over to the courts, and they lined up to pay their court fee with park players who barely recognized him and then went on Court 17 or whatever and hit balls for an hour. That was innocent, too, and, for me, it marked Andy Roddick as the right kind of guy.

The rain had caused disruption to the schedule Wednesday, and Olympic gold medalist Andy Murray found himself being shunted over to Louis Armstrong for his match against Marin Cilic. For a while, Murray didn't look as if he knew where he was or what he was doing. Seemingly lifeless, he allowed the Croat to sweep to a 6-3, 5-1 lead.

It was about the time that the Roddick match ended, and one of the first spectators to rush over from Ashe was Pippa Middleton. A mass of spectators soon followed, and suddenly the atmosphere was completely different. So was Murray.

Beginning to look like the man who dealt so ruthlessly and cleverly with Milos Raonic's big game in the previous round, Murray broke back twice, went 2-4 down in the tiebreak after three awful errors but still remembered his lines and wrapped up the second-set tiebreak, 7-4. After that, Cilic had no chance and went down, 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-2, 6-0.

After all the rain interruptions, Maria Sharapova finally got back on Ashe facing the unenviable task of pulling herself back from a 0-4 first set deficit against Marion Bartoli, the great French fidget.

"I tried not to think about it too much, " Sharapova said. "Just happy to get a good night's sleep."

Although she started well and broke Bartoli's serve, it was not enough to save the set, but slowly the determined Russian pounded her way into the match with her heavy forehand and occasional ace and came through to win, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Bartoli, who goes through the most extraordinary gyrations while waiting to receive serve and swings viciously at air while practicing her shots in between points, had a purple patch in the third set when she broke back and broke again to lead 4-3. But Sharapova has this increasingly amazing record of not having lost a match that goes to three sets this year, and after this comeback, the score stood at 12-0.

"She just has that non-traditional game where it's kind of sneaky," Sharapova said. "You don't know whether she's going to come in or hit the ball flat or hit the frame. And I think she likes to serve consistently at 99 mph on second serves. Every time I looked at the clock, it was like 99, 99. I thought, if I lose this match, I'm going to have nightmares."

But she will sleep well again after this and prepare for an even tougher assignment next time out, when she meets world No. 1 Viktoria Azarenka in the semifinal. It will be Sharapova's first appearance in the semifinal here since she won the title in 2006.

In another women's quarterfinal, Sara Errani, who lost to Sharapova in the final of the French Open in June, won the battle of the Italians when she defeated her doubles partner, Roberta Vinci, 6-2, 6-4.

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