On his 30th birthday, Andy Roddick Thursday night designated this year's U.S. Open as his going-out-of-business sale. He will play on the tournament's premier stage -- under the lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium for a 27th time, the most by any man -- Friday night against 19-year-old Australian Bernard Tomic in what could be his last professional match.
"I hope it goes well and I stick around," Roddick said.
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But, win or lose, "I've decided this is going to be my last tournament."
The face of American men's tennis for more than a decade, Roddick won the U.S. title in 2003 and rose briefly to No. 1 in the world, shortly before the sport was inundated by the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal-Novak Djokovic power axis.
He lost to Federer in the 2006 Open final and was three-time runner-up at Wimbledon, including the memorable five-set loss to Federer in 2009 that seemed to validate Roddick's increased commitment to fitness and to hint at a possible breakthrough return to the top.
But that proved to be his last big push in a Grand Slam event. Aside from quarterfinal finishes at the 2010 Australian Open and last year's U.S. Open, Roddick didn't advance past the fourth round of a major and his ranking continued to drop. Out of the top 10 for the first time in nine years at the end of 2011, he now is No. 22.
And his on-court style, built on a hammer-of-Thor serve (with a 2004 top speed of 155 mph that stood as a record for years) and grinding play, began to wear him down physically. He has dealt with a series of injuries during the last two years, most recently a balky back. Throughout this year, he said, he has been thinking of retirement, and "walking off at Wimbledon , I felt like I knew."
Whether beat up more physically or mentally "is tough to say," he said. "It's kind of chicken and egg. How much of mental fatigue is because you don't feel like you can do what you want to do physically?
"Playing here , I don't know what it was," Roddick said. "I couldn't imagine myself being here in another year. I can sit here and say I'm not sure I can put everything into it physically and emotionally.
"The more I thought about it, you're either all in or not. I don't know that I want to disrespect the game by coasting home."
Though he was guilty of a few on-court fits in his career, and his sarcasm occasionally got him into trouble (as when he mocked Djokovic for citing various injuries), Roddick built strong friendships among fellow pros, especially younger Americans he regularly mentored, as he said Andre Agassi had mentored him. He often invited up-and-coming pros to practice with him at his Austin, Texas, home.
Now, he said he expects to be "hands on" with the youth tennis and learning center his foundation is building in Austin.
His first trip to the Open was in 1990, as an eighth birthday present from his parents, when he sneaked into the players' lounge and engaged Pete Sampras in a video game. In 2000, he won the Open boys' title, sending him toward the professional journey that will end here.
"As much as I was disappointed and frustrated at times," Roddick said, "I'm not sure I ever felt sorry for myself or begrudged anybody any of their success. I don't think I would change much."