Untamed by fame: The legend of Andy Roddick

Andy Roddick can be defined in 3 words: Entertainer, competitor, philanthropist. When he walked on to the court there was some presence about him, an aura and the aura was of a man who wanted to win and not of someone who was to be pushed around. So when he decided to hang up his racket at the U.S Open, it marked the end of an era — leaving behind a legacy that shall be hard to match. Roddick will always be remembered as the true heir to Andre Agassi with an enigmatic presence and a boyish charm to add on.

As one looks at Roddick’s career over the years it is difficult to see where he fits in, especially amidst all the talk of greatness looming over Roger Federer, the clay domination of Rafael Nadal and the rise of Novak Djokovic. Ever since his first and, to date, only triumph on the Grand Slam stage, at the 2003 U.S Open, Roddick has fallen victim to the tag of a “one slam wonder”.

His apt reaction to this has always been: “Well that’s one more than most”.

Having seen success at an early age could pose as a disadvantage to most with the burden of expectations wearing them down, but this Texan was not one to complain. If anything, the guy thrived under pressure.

But Andy Roddick — one of the modern game’s great servers, workers and personalities — still left a deep imprint on his decade: reaching No. 1 in the rankings, playing in four Grand Slam singles finals and keeping the long-brilliant flame of American men’s tennis burning when it otherwise might have flickered out.

On July 22, he will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, in Newport, R.I., along with former women’s No. 1, Kim Clijsters, a four-time Grand Slam singles champion from Belgium.

After the retirement of Sampras in 2003 and with Agassi’s career coming to a close, A-Rod played the lead role in U.S men’s tennis as long as one can remember. For the major part of his career, he was the lone flag-bearer for America at the business end of major tournaments. With the huge gap in the depth of American men’s players in the post-Agassi/Sampras era, Roddick wasn’t one to shy away from the spotlight and picked up where the likes of Jim Courier and Michael Chang left off. Though these were big shoes to fill, he was eager to rise to the occasion and led U.S.A to a Davis Cup final victory in 2007 after a lapse of 12 years.

The 2009 Wimbledon final has stuck in the minds of most tennis fans, not only because of the historical numbers (longest fifth set in the men’s final, Federer breaking Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles) or the quality of tennis but more so because of the way Roddick fought valiantly and persevered for the duration of that five-set epic. In his post-match press conference when asked how he would bounce back after this, his answer was precise

“What do you do? You keep moving forward until you decide to stop. At this point, I’ve not decided to stop, so I’ll keep moving forward.”

This epitomizes what Andy Roddick truly was; a fighter, not a quitter and his entire tennis playing career is living proof of this.

But Roddick was much more than a One-Slam wonder, and what helped him make it into the Hall in his first year of eligibility — he retired in 2012 — probably was his consistent presence among the game’s elite.

He not only scaled the virtual peak, finishing as the year-end No. 1 in 2003. He finished in the top 10 for nine straight years from 2002 to 2010 and led the United States Davis Cup team for most of his career, winning the trophy in 2007. Spain’s Juan Carlos Ferrero, another former men’s No. 1 and Grand Slam singles champion who was also eligible for the first time this year, was part of three Davis Cup-winning teams. But though Ferrero could make the cut in the future, he did not have Roddick’s staying power as a major contender.

Roddick said he was comfortable with his own selection based on the sum of his achievements, outside as well as inside the majors.

What is perhaps most symbolic is that Roddick will be joining the leading members of the great American generation that preceded him: Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang. Combined, those four men won 25 Grand Slam singles titles. Swimming in their wide wake was Roddick’s career-long burden, both self-imposed and otherwise.

Calling a press conference on his 30th birthday, everyone was questioning, wondering. From just to be presented a birthday cake to withdrawing from the tournament (he’s had various physical issues for a bit, after all) to retiring altogether from tennis, everyone was talking.

At a little past 18:00 in New York, the Nebraska native announced what some hinted for over a year he would, with a very simple sentence:

“I’ll make this short and sweet.  I’ve decided that this is going to be my last tournament.”

Then, of course, came the inevitable question: why?

“I just feel like it’s time.  I don’t know that I’m healthy enough or committed enough to go another year.  I’ve always wanted to, in a perfect world, finish at this event.  I have a lot of family and friends here.  I’ve thought all year that I would know when I got to this tournament.  When I was playing my first round, I knew.”

Andy Roddick is reminded often that he never won the Wimbledon and felt the ghosts himself when he returned to the tournament for the first time since his retirement to do commentary for the BBC in 2015. Roddick said he felt no bitterness because he gave all he had in the effort, sweating the details and making the changes — like dropping significant weight for the 2008 season — to remain competitive. He has been retired for five years while Federer, 35, and others in their 30s, like Feliciano López, Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet, continue to play on tour.

“People say, ‘You retired too young,’”

Roddick said. “And I counter that by saying, ‘I got a head start on the rest of my life.’”

In a sport, where success is gauged by the number of Grand Slam titles a player amasses, one can easily overlook giving due recognition to the likes of Andy Roddick. But, with his quick-wit, never-say-die attitude and a humble appreciation of his peers, the American was the epitome of an entertainer, untamed by fame.

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