In the early 2000s, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were nearing the end of their careers. Lleyton Hewitt was the top player in the world, and he made that resoundingly clear when he crushed David Nalbandian 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 in the finals of the 2002 Wimbledon Championship.
The following year, however, Hewitt lost in the first round of Wimbledon to the big-serving Ivo Karlovic and became just the second defending champion in Wimbledon history to lose in the opening round.
At that point, the focus, especially from the American media, turned to Andy Roddick. All of a sudden, he was expected to win the tournament and to become the world’s next tennis superstar…to take up the mantle of Agassi and Sampras and extend America’s great tradition of having championship-level tennis players.
After all, Agassi and Sampras had been following up on the success of Jim Courier, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, and we had Venus and Serena Williams along with Jennifer Capriati and Lindsay Davenport among others to expect greatness from in the women’s game. It was Roddick’s turn to become a consistent Grand Slam champion.
Now, let’s return to Wimbledon in 2003. Roddick was cruising through the tournament and had only lost one set going into the semifinals. It seemed like he was going to win his first Grand Slam and validate all of the talk that had followed Hewitt’s loss, and America would have its next star.
But then he went up against Federer in the semifinals and got destroyed in straight sets. Federer absolutely tore him apart and then went on to thump Mark Philippoussis in the finals, beating him in straights as well.
So, in the matter of just a couple of days, the expectations for Roddick to become the top player in the world were transferred to Federer, and we all know what happened after that.
That semifinal matchup between Roddick and Federer was significant though because it initiated what would become one of the most one-sided rivalries in tennis history. In fact, it seems like it would be incorrect to call it a rivalry since the two played each other 24 times, and Federer won 21 of the matchups.
Regardless though, looking at it from Roddick’s perspective, it must have been incredibly frustrating to know that he could play the match of his life against Federer and still lose.
And that’s exactly what happened in the 2009 Wimbledon finals. In that match, which was the longest Slam final of all time in terms of total games played, Federer beat Roddick in five sets, winning 16-14 in the final set.
Certainly, that match must have been heart-breaking for Andy and some might argue that loss ended up being too much for Roddick to overcome since he never returned to a Slam final after that. However, while it may seem harsh and it certainly could not be deemed his fault, it’s probably more likely that the American simply didn’t have enough talent to make it back.
It’s not a coincidence that Federer, Djokovic and Nadal have won 29 of the last 30 Grand Slams. Those three players, with Andy Murray perhaps deserving to be included in their group after winning Olympic gold this summer, are just light-years ahead of everyone else on tour in terms of their talent level.
What feels funny though, as an American tennis fan, is that despite the fact that Roddick hasn’t been ranked in the top 10 in men’s singles for a while, it always felt like he was available to cheered for when a Grand Slam started.
Even though he hasn’t performed well recently in major tournaments and it was impossible to expect him to win, it seemed like he was the go-to guy to roof for, and now it’s hard to know which American player(s) to cheer for now that he’s gone.
Hopefully sooner rather than later, Americans will have another player that they can believe in, but we have to consider ourselves lucky that Roddick started playing his best tennis when Sampras retired and Agassi was reaching the end of his career.
Certainly it would be unfair to compare Roddick to those two legends since he didn’t end up having the kind of career that garnered multiple Grand Slam Championships, but he was consistently fun to watch and during his peak, it always seemed like there was a chance he might just shock us along with the rest of the world and finally beat Federer for a Slam title. And when he didn’t, we could still hope for him, and selfishly for ourselves, that he would find a way to win next time.
Since it’s been a couple of years since he had a legitimate chance to win a major title, it will probably be easier for us, as fans, to accept that Roddick is leaving the game of tennis than it would have been otherwise, but that doesn’t mean that his career will go unappreciated.
Andy Roddick will always be remembered for being the greatest American tennis player of the 2000s—the proof being his U.S. Open victory in 2003—and that’s a pretty decent legacy to have.
Though, the future is far from clear...
Andy Roddick is only 30 years old. He has a long life ahead of him, and it’ll be interesting to see what he chooses to do next. Ultimately, let’s just hope he is able to find as much passion in whatever that happens to be as he did in tennis.