No second major title, but Andy Roddick was good for the game
John JeansonneJohn Jeansonne
Jeansonne has been a reporter in Newsday’s sports department since
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This year's U.S. Open again has demonstrated what a global sport tennis is, how the days of American exceptionalism have been leveled by great stars from abroad. The mid-tournament retirement of Andy Roddick, the last U.S. male to win a major championship, emphasized that fact -- not only because he leaves no obvious Yank contender to take his place, but also because he never assumed the world dominance of his predecessors.
Though Roddick's 2003 Open title, when he was just 21, appeared to be a down payment of owning a large cache of the sport's hardware, he spent virtually all of his 13 pro years being reminded that he was not Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi, not John McEnroe or Jimmy Connors or Jim Courier -- all multi winners of Grand Slam events.
He was close a few times -- runner-up at the '06 Open and the '04, '05 and '09 Wimbledon. But the meter always was running, and it was only when Roddick -- bringing a new coach and trainer to his team and shedding 15 pounds -- lost an excruciating 16-14 fifth set to Roger Federer in that '09 Wimbledon final that he seemed to be more fully appreciated.
Even his mailman in Austin, Texas, offered sympathy, and the word began to spread about what a mentor he had been to young American players and the effort he gave to promoting the sport. "You know," he said at the time, "I feel I've been a pretty good tennis player throughout my career, and I've been on the defensive about that.
"I've been portrayed as everything. From the eager young guy, they tried to turn me into Zac Efron, then a punk, then a has-been, then the guy in the middle who blends in. Then, after Wimbledon, I'm Andy Everyguy. The meat and potatoes of who I am hasn't changed much."
In fact, the meat and potatoes was a player good enough to reach No. 1 in the world just before the Federer-Rafael Nadal-Novak Djokovic storm of excellence hit. Roddick ranked in the top 10 for nine years, in the top five for three.
"The game changed" around him, he said. "I saw the way the game was going. You have to get stronger and quicker."
Coach Larry Stefanki called Roddick "the best server in the game," but for all Roddick's 130-to-140 mile-per-hour aces, he didn't have the royal flush of weapons to play that Federer did, or Nadal, or Djokovic. Right to the end, he was asked about never winning that second major, and admitted to big-event frustration.
"It's funny," he said, "because if you tell a 12- or 13-year-old kid that he's going to win 30-some-odd titles and become No. 1 and have a Slam, you'd take that in a heartbeat. Going back, I would take that in a heartbeat.
"There were a lot of tough moments, but unbelievable moments. I mean, who gets to play in Wimbledon finals and who gets to play in an Open and who gets to be part of a winning team ? Most people don't get to experience that. I realize how lucky I have been."
In the bargain, U.S. tennis got a troubadour who was no multiple-Slam winner and sometimes sarcastic, but who added personality and goodwill toward the game. Pretty lucky for the sport, too.