The 2012 U.S. Open has become the “last dance” for two crowd favorites on the tennis stage—Belgian Kim Clijsters and American Andy Roddick.
First, we watched Kim Clijsters play her last singles match against teenager Laura Robson of Great Britain during the second round of the U.S. Open on Wednesday night.
Clijsters fought hard and gave it everything she had, losing 6-7, 6-7.
Roddick will also play a teenager, Bernard Tomic of Australia on Friday. Whether he goes out in the second round is yet to be seen.
Hours ago, Roddick held a surprise news conference to announce that this year’s U.S. Open would be his last professional tournament, regardless of the outcome.
Roddick has been playing professional tennis for twelve years challenging opponents on courts around the world—starting at the age of 18. He reached the peak of his career in 2003, at the age of 21, when he won the U.S. Open over Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero and captured the No. 1 ranking.
At that point, the weight of expectation for American tennis fell directly on Roddick’s shoulders.
From then on, everyone looked to Roddick to win because he was the heart and soul of men’s tennis in the United States.
So why did Roddick never quite get there—never quite achieve all those dreams he had as a youngster coming up?
The foundation of Roddick’s game has always been his serve. He holds the record for the fastest serve at a Grand Slam tournament at 152 miles per hour.
Over the years and at different tournaments, Roddick also set many other records for fastest serve. In the beginning, it was enough to serve at blistering speeds. It got him past countless opponents. It still does in many instances.
Using power, variety and placement, Roddick’s serve will go down in tennis history as one of the greatest offensive weapons in tennis.
However, not all aspects of his game parallelled his serve. While Roddick’s forehand was often equally powerful, his backhand remained a weakness in his game.
Often his forays into the net when he served and volleyed were not well-timed. When that happened, Roddick was passed standing at the net instead of finding himself in an advantageous put-away position.
As time wore on, and other players learned to better handle his serve, Roddick continued to work hard to improve his movement on court, as well as other tennis fundamentals. He never quit trying any time he took the court, working relentlessly to improve.
Sometimes, however, the level of talent is just not there no matter how hard you work. Tennis, as a sport, evolved. It was not possible to be at the top of the game unless you excelled in all facets.
That is not to say that Roddick was not an excellent tennis player, because he was. He remained a top-ten player for a decade which requires ultimate skill and commitment.
Roddick just could not take that next step to the top because there were players ranked ahead of him who could play the game better, no matter how much Roddick sought to change that fact.
Throughout his career, Roddick suffered from numerous injuries, such as hamstring and shoulder problems that kept him out of action from time to time.
In 2011 alone, Roddick had to retire or withdraw because of a shoulder injury and a torn oblique muscle.
At the 2012 Australian Open, he was forced to retire in his match with Lleyton Hewitt because of a hamstring injury.
He withdrew from all action on clay in 2012, electing not to return until the grass court season.
As is true of many players who reach age 30 and beyond, recovery took longer and coming back became harder. Injuries were one of the reasons that Clijsters also said good-bye to tennis.
When your body tells you it is time to quit, then you listen.
Those absences often cost him ranking points. Plus, it took Roddick time to get back up to match strength, especially after long lay-offs.
The main reason, however, for Roddick not achieving his dream to get back to the top was the quality of his opposition.
Roddick’s win at the U.S. Open in 2003 was not his only major final. He advanced to the finals of Wimbledon in 2004, 2005 and 2009—losing each time to current world No. 1 Roger Federer. Andy also reached the finals of the U.S. Open again in 2006, but he lost once again to Federer.
Unluckily for Roddick, he played during the Federer era. His peak time coincided with Federer’s. And, the Swiss was just a bit better at everything on the tennis court. Federer was the one who supplanted Roddick as the world No. 1 in February of 2004.
Once Federer figured out how to win, he won everything. While Roddick remained close, he could never surpass the world No. 1.
But Roddick never quit trying—he was always in there battling. He came closest when the two battled for the Wimbledon championship in 2009.
It was a five-set marathon, with Roddick never losing his serve until the fifth set—his final game in the match. Roddick lost 7-5, 6-7, 6-7, 6-3, 14-16. Their match set a record for the most games played in a Grand Slam final at 77.
That final, looking back, became the last great Grand Slam match of Roddick’s career.
Beyond Federer, starting in 2005, there was Rafael Nadal to contend with, who quickly assumed the No. 2 spot. Then came younger players like Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray—and it became even harder to break through and make finals.
By the end of 2007, Roddick dropped out of the top five in the world, but he returned there after his great Wimbledon match in 2009.
In July of 2011, however, Roddick had dropped permanently out of the top ten, falling as low as No. 33 in June of 2012.
Once Roddick realized there was no way to get back to the top and become a major force in tennis, he decided to call it a day.