New York: Andy Roddick celebrated two seemingly contradictory milestones Thursday. The first was his 30th birthday. The second was his impending retirement.
Roddick, scheduled to play at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in a second-round match at the United States Open, called a mysterious news conference for Thursday night. He wore a black T-shirt and a black cap slung low over his eyes. He walked in, smiled and sat down. Then, in the manner of someone who calls Texas home, he got right to the point.
“I’ll make this short and sweet,” Roddick said. “This is going to be my last tournament.”
With that, the most visible, most successful, most colorful American men’s tennis player in the past decade, the last American man to win a Grand Slam singles title, stamped his career with an official expiration date. His departure will shut the door on another era of American men’s tennis, an era marked as much by trials as by triumphs, much like Roddick’s own career.
Roddick said he could sense the end when he walked off the court at Wimbledon after a third-round loss. As the summer wore on, Roddick said he felt more certain. He did not feel healthy enough, or motivated enough, to continue.
He considered playing a shorter schedule next year, a retirement tour of sorts. But Roddick said he ruled that out because it felt like something less than whole, halfway in, halfway out.
“Probably the first time in my career that I can sit here and say I’m not sure that I can put everything into it physically and emotionally,” he said. “I don’t know that I want to disrespect the game by coasting home.”
The United States Open seemed as fitting a place as any to call it quits. Roddick recalled Thursday the first time he came to New York because of tennis, in 1990, the result of a birthday gift from his parents. He sneaked into the players’ lounge without a credential. He said he thought he bested Pete Sampras, then 19 and about to win his first Grand Slam title, in video games.
“Mortal Kombat or something,” Roddick said.
Roddick returned to the Open in 1991 and watched the fiery Jimmy Connors’s memorable run at age 39. Eight years later, Roddick played in New York for the first time, in doubles.
Over the years, Roddick became part of the fabric of the Open, a regular at the night sessions, a fan favorite. He won the tournament in 2003 and took the silver trophy home to Austin, Tex., where he plans to open an academy next year through his foundation. The trophy sits in his study.
Roddick said he did not see the trophy often “because we all know I don’t go there very much.”
Known for his powerful serve and combustible nature, Roddick captured 32 ATP World Titles, won four doubles crowns and obtained the No. 1 ranking in November 2003 at 21 years old.
Yet he came of age in the era of Roger Federer, who turns 31 next week. Then came Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, and the three have let few major tournament titles slip through their grasps. Federer alone toppled Roddick in four Grand Slam finals, including an epic contest at Wimbledon in 2009 that Federer won, 16-14, in the fifth set.
Roddick also proved a Davis Cup mainstay and a leader among his American teammates. His 33 wins rank second for the United States, which he led to the Davis Cup championship in 2007. Along the way, Roddick married the model and actress Brooklyn Decker.
Life over all was good, regardless of era or legacy or the constant questions about the state of American men’s tennis.
Roddick did not cry at the news conference announcing his retirement, even though he admitted he expected to. Instead, he did what Roddick does best in those settings. He made jokes.
On what Roddick would miss most, he cracked to reporters, “All of you.” He said his dog would be excited because “I won’t be a deadbeat dad anymore.”
Ten years ago, Sampras won the Open at age 31, in the final match of his career. “We’ll see,” Roddick said when asked about the prospect of a dream run. “I wish it was a choice.”