Tennis

Roddick emotional but sharp at Open

FARE WELL TOUR
Andy Roddick dispatched Bernard Tomic in three sets.
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Richard Evans

Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." Follow him on Twitter.

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NEW YORK

Twenty minutes before he was due to play what might have been his last match – but wasn’t – Andy Roddick got all emotional in the locker room.

After coming off court with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 victory over the young Australian Bernard Tomic, Roddick tried to explain what he had been going through – playing on Arthur Ashe Stadium in front of 24,600 people the day after announcing that he would retire at the end of the tournament.

“Felt weird before the match,” he said. “Twenty minutes before it was kind of getting the best of me. You think different things today. I walk out for the warm-up, and is this going to be the last warm-up? Kind of everything. It got to me a little bit. Larry (Stefanki, his coach) had to come over and kind of tell me to knock it off.”

Roddick then proceeded to knock off Tomic with as good a match as he has played all year. No longer worried about what he might be doing to his shoulder, he served up a storm and found himself trying all sorts of shots that he would never have dared try before. While he was in the process of strolling through the final set, he came up with an outrageous undercut drop volley and turned away with a cheeky smile on his face.

“I just realized it was probably a shot I had never played before. I kind of went after it a little bit. It kind of had a little of the fun stuff you see other guys do. I was excited about that.”

Roddick acknowledged he had no idea what was going to happen before he went on court. “I’ve played a lot matches, but this was a different kind of nerves than I’ve had before. That was surprising for me.”

He also allowed his concentration to wander sufficiently from its usual lockdown mode to take a look around and absorb the atmosphere. “I had a good time. You know when they’re doing the dancing and stuff on the switch-overs, I was just watching. That was fun.”

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It offered an insight into just how much top players keep themselves in a bubble out there on court, rarely allowing themselves to react to anything extraneous that might happen or interact with the crowd. Novak Djokovic, who cruised through a straight-set victory over Brazil’s Rogerio Dutra Silva earlier in the day, allows the odd smile to cross his face, but nobody gets much charge out of Roger Federer or Andy Murray on court.

It has always been that way. How many people realized Chris Evert had a pretty outrageous sense of humor or that Ivan Lendl has an endless stream of macho jokes in his repertoire? “I never dared let my sense of humor show on court,” Evert told me. “I was so afraid of losing my concentration.”

Roddick is past that now. “Normally, you’re so consumed by what’s going to happen in the next five minutes that you don’t really notice stuff. But this time it worked. I played well. I don’t know why. I don’t know how to explain it. It was a little surreal.”

Roddick even found time to make his peace with the media who, if truth be told, have always enjoyed his press conferences because, one way or the other, they are rarely dull.

“I’ve always felt OK with it,” he said. “I think, even in my worst moments, I come in here knowing it’s a vital part of our game, growing it. I certainly am not always in the mood for it after a bad loss, but I don’t think I’ve ever been the guy who hasn’t come in. I certainly get the process. I realize how vital this part is. It’s a reason why I have been as fortunate as I have. As much as I’ve been pissed off at you or you guys have been pissed off at me, I’ll certainly look back fondly and smile about it at the end.”

There will be at least one more Andy Roddick show. On Sunday, he will play the tricky, 59th-ranked Italian Fabio Fognini, who may not be tricky enough to send this relaxed and contented Roddick off into retirement.

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