Thursday, August 30, 2012
No one worked harder than Roddick
By Greg Garber ESPN.com
NEW YORK -- Clearly, he's known for a few months now.
When Andy Roddick -- completely out of character -- blew kisses to the crowd at Wimbledon, he telegraphed his intentions.
"If I don't have a definitive answer in my own mind, it's going to be tough for me to articulate a definitive answer to you," he said afterward.
The New Nebraskan
Nine years ago, a 20-year-old from Omaha, Neb., won the U.S. Open.
Thursday, on the day that same champion -- Andy Roddick -- announced his retirement, another young Nebraskan made a big impression here.
Jack Sock, a teenager from Lincoln, Neb., pitched a very nearly perfect game against Flavio Cipolla, a crafty 28-year-old Italian. Sock saved 12 of 13 break points against his serve, while converting all six of his opportunities.
And so, the 19-year-old crafted a routine 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 victory to advance to a third-round match with No. 11 seed Nicolas Almagro.
New York, apparently, is Sock's kind of town.
At the age of a typical college sophomore, he has already:
• Won the 2010 U.S. Open junior tournament.
• Won his first-ever Grand Slam singles match at the 2011 U.S. Open as a wild card and the senior mixed doubles title with Melanie Oudin.
• Knocked out the No. 1-seeded doubles team of Daniel Nestor and Max Mirnyi with partner Steve Johnson at the 2012 U.S. Open.
And now he's got a chance to advance to the fourth round. The funny thing? He's ranked only No. 243 in the world, a career high.
It's sometimes difficult to remember that he's still just a teenager.
That's why he's spent the better part of the past year playing Futures and Challengers to get his ranking up. He lost his first three ATP World Tour matches -- in San Jose, Memphis and Indian Wells -- but is 3-3 since. He reached the quarterfinals in Atlanta last month, beating Alex Bogomolov Jr. and Johnson in the process before losing credibly to No. 10-ranked John Isner.
The key word was definitive.
Thursday evening, nine years after he won his first and only Grand Slam singles title, Roddick finally admitted this U.S. Open will be his last tournament.
"Walking off at Wimbledon, I felt like I knew," Roddick said in a hastily called news conference. "Playing [here] this year, I couldn't imagine myself being there in another year.
"For whatever my faults have been, I felt like I've never done anything halfway. This is probably the first time that I can sit here and say I'm not sure I can put everything into it physically and emotionally. I didn't want to disrespect the game by coasting home."
He considered a more limited schedule, he said, but, "The more I thought about it, I think you either got to be all in or not. That's more kind of the way I've chosen to do things."
Effort was his calling card and now it will be his epitaph.
Roddick persevered and succeeded at the highest level in tennis without many of the astonishing athletic gifts of some contemporaries.
And yet, at the age of 21, he was the world's No. 1-ranked player for 13 weeks.
Roddick sprung his surprise to a room crowded with media on the day of his 30th birthday.
The guys who hang around to hang around -- Lleyton Hewitt, another former No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion, comes to mind -- well, Roddick said, that wasn't in his character.
The obituaries will describe him as a one-hit wonder, but make no mistake, all things considered, he overachieved -- and we're not just talking about his wife, Brooklyn Decker, the Sports Illustrated cover girl.
What is he proudest of?
His answer was vintage Roddick.
"I was pretty good for a long time," he said. "For 13 or 14 years I was invested fully, every single day. I've seen guys tap out. I've been pretty good about keeping my nose to the grindstone. I've won a lot of matches by working hard."
Although Roddick said he was pretty sure of his decision in recent weeks, he didn't tell his wife until a few days ago. He didn't tell his coach, Larry Stefanki, and trainer, Doug Spreen, until today.
The casual fan might not know it, but in some respects the sustained nature of Roddick's 13-year run has only one true peer: Roger Federer. Long before Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Roddick was grinding out titles. He and Federer led all active players by winning titles for 12 consecutive years. Roddick finished in the year-end top 10 for nine straight years from 2002 to '10. Federer didn't do him one better until this year.
Roddick's U.S. Open title, which he won as a fresh-faced 20-year-old, was a terrific accomplishment, but his losses go far further in defining him. He was a Wimbledon finalist three times, in 2004, 2005 and 2009 -- losing each time to Federer.
He played the match of his life in 2009 -- in retrospect, his last great effort -- but lost 16-14 in the fifth set.
Roddick did not reference that match in his news conference, but he might have been thinking about it when he said, "I don't know that I would change much. Obviously I think everybody would want to win a match or two more. Had I won a match or two more, we'd be looking at something a little bit different.
"But that's also shaped who I am and how I've been able to learn. If everything would have been easy the whole way who knows how you'd view things. I'm pretty content with the way I do."
He was wearing a black hat and black shirt, but Roddick has always represented himself -- and his country -- well. He led America to its first Davis Cup title in a dozen years in 2007. He was engaging in interviews, wildly self-deprecating and humorous.
And when his big serve and forehand became obsolete in today's more physical game, he worked hard to compensate. He found ways to move better and added variety -- a sliced backhand, of all things -- to his game.
In recent years, injuries made it harder for him to train and compete.
Andy Roddick won only one major, but his longevity atop the game was second to only Roger Federer.
"These guys have gotten really, really good," Roddick said. "I'm not sure with compromised health I can do what I want to do."
Friday night, in the first match on Arthur Ashe, Roddick will be celebrated for his career. He first played here in the junior tournament, in 1998, against Fernando Gonzalez. He plays Bernard Tomic, a gifted 19-year-old from Australia with the potential to win a Grand Slam title.
He hopes it won't be his final match.
"I haven't done this before," Roddick said. "I'm sure it will be very emotional. I'm sure I'll be nervous. I don't know."
He has been the face for American men's tennis for nine years now, since that straight-sets victory over Juan Carlos Ferrero.
What does it mean to him?
"It's been a pleasure," Roddick said. "It's not something that's easy every day, for sure, especially when you get kind of anointed at a young age, 17, 18.
"It's something you roll with."