Andy Roddick wins third-round match, continues to put retirement on hold
For the time being, it is Andy Roddick's U.S. Open.
Still one match away from retirement, never really on the radar as a championship threat while the likes of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic sail along into the second week, Roddick has become the phantom of the opera, the main attraction.
He won again Sunday, an entertaining 7-5 7-6 (1), 4-6, 6-4 third-round match against Italy's Fabio Fognini, made more compelling by the circumstance. The Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd has doubled down on this farewell thing, erupting in vesuvian tumult with each big Roddick point -- and Roddick simultaneously has been able to play to the crowd and stick to his knitting.
Repeatedly, the fans chanted, "Let's go, Andy!" They pleaded with him to come through each tight spot.
"They definitely established themselves," he said. "It was loud out there. About as loud as I remember. I'd be an idiot not to use the crowd right now. It's a huge advantage."
For almost the entire arc of his 13-year professional career, Roddick has been the face of American men's tennis. Despite his 2003 Open title, when he was 21, he never quite reached the heights of what he called "the two greatest generations" previous to his -- from the Connors-McEnroe era to Sampras-Agassi-Courier-Chang.
Yet his announcement on his 30th birthday Thursday, that physical and mental wear-and-tear moved him to designate this his last tournament, has stirred an appreciation that has surprised Roddick with its breadth and depth.
"It's humbling," he said. "I'm normally good about being able to articulate thoughts. But this whole process, I'm not trying to overthink it. I'm trying to be, I guess, as simplistic as possible. I'm trying to enjoy the process, and when I get out there, trying to compete, also."
Sunday, in a production that featured an abundance of shot-making and goodly amount of drama, with a total of nine service breaks, Fognini, a 25-year-old Italian ranked 59th in the world, was a lovable enough villain.
Fognini twice scraped himself off the floor after scrambling to keep the ball in play, limped around briefly, but kept reviving himself and conjuring clean strokes that forced Roddick to earn the victory. When Fognini slapped one spectacular back-to-the-net, between-the-legs shot, only to be one-upped for the point by Roddick's stretching stab volley, the crowd went crackers.
In the end, Roddick's timely lightning-strike serves -- 135-mph top speed, 10 aces, no double faults -- kept the match in hand, especially when he served back-to-back aces (and Fognini double faulted) in the midst of Roddick's second-set tiebreak victory.
When it was over, Fognini hugged Roddick at the net and, once in the locker room, requested a Roddick tennis shirt as a souvenir. Another in the series of testimonials to Roddick's place in the game.
Sam Querrey called Roddick "my biggest role model the last 10 years playing tennis." Djokovic said Roddick should be "proud of his career, and all American tennis should be." James Blake said he "never can repay Andy for winning me a Davis Cup, for being the anchor of that  team."
When he woke up Sunday morning, Roddick said, his chronic shoulder injury, after having consistently served in the mid-130 mph range Friday night, "was not great. But, you know, it's good enough. I've got, max, a week of tennis left, so it's good enough for that."
Next up for Roddick Tuesday night will be 2009 Open champ Juan Martin del Potro. Theoretically, the 21st-ranked Roddick has only a ghost of a chance. But until that match is over, it's his show.