Despite his sometimes abrasive manner, I've always loved tennis player Andy Roddick. A future Hall of Famer, Roddick won his only major title at the U.S. Open in 2003, and was the last American male to win a slam title. Many assumed he'd follow in the footsteps of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, but despite a big serve and a lot of heart, the Nebraska native could never replicate the success of those legends.
Roddick, who turned 30 last week, announced that he would be retiring after this year's U.S. Open. And, after losing to Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro in the men's singles fourth round of the Open on Wednesday, he did indeed retire. But not before saying goodbye to his fans in an emotional farewell.
Fighting as hard as he could against del Potro, Roddick surrendered to tired legs and the consistency of his opponent's power tennis, and then he departed the court with tears in his eyes. But before he left the tournament and the game for good, Roddick was afforded a rare honor: a standing ovation in his final press conference.
I watched Roddick's final match in an airport bar, having just dropped my daughter off at college, and was already more than a bit teary. Like many fans, I'd hoped that the support of an appreciative crowd would propel Roddick to a second Grand Slam title. His tennis career, however, concluded with a 6-7, 7-6, 6-2, 6-4 defeat. As it became increasingly apparent that his 13 year run was coming to a close, I was probably more emotional than the situation called for. But I'm still reeling from my own personal transition so watching Roddick close one door to enter through another had me blubbering over my beer. I'm sure other travelers thought I was crazy to be so invested in the match but as he thanked his parents and support system, I lost it.
"It has been a road with a lot of ups, a lot of downs and a lot of great moments." Roddick said. " I've appreciated your support along the way. I know I certainly haven't made it easy for you at times, but I really do appreciate it and love you guys with all my heart. Hopefully I will come back to this place some day and I will see all of you again."
Cheered on by his parents, Blanche and Jerry; his wife, the model and actress Brooklyn Decker who was visibily emotional as his career drew to a close; his coach, Larry Stefanki; and nearly every person in the stadium, Roddick finished out a career in which he had ranked somewhere in the top 20 since 2001, a consistency that he said made him proud.
Roddick finished up with 32 career titles including the U.S. Open. He was runner-up in four other major tournaments, including three times at Wimbledon. His five set loss to nemesis Roger Federer in 2009 on the famed grass courts, decided by an agonizing 16-14 fifth set, will long be considered one of Wimbledon's finest matches. While Roddick may not have had the fairytale finish fans had hoped for, he was gracious in defeat and will be missed.
The tennis star now plans to work hard on a tennis-education foundation in Austin, Texas, and also to tinker with his golf game.
Good luck Andy.
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