With the recent resurgence of a certain Mr. A-Rod, I thought it would be a good time to rewind to Sunday, Sept. 7, 2003; a date which is, no doubt, deeply engraved upon the mind of the American. For it was on this day that Andy Roddick would claim his first Slam title by being crowned King of the Big Apple.
At the time of his victory, very few tennis buffs would have predicted that six years down the line the American would still have only the one major trophy in his cabinet at home.
As Roddick pelted down his 23rd ace against Juan Carlos Ferrero to win the championships in New York, the USA rejoiced as they looked down upon the man who they believed was the heir to Pete Sampras’ throne.
Another great American champion, Andre Agassi, was still giving the home side something to cheer about, having entered Flushing Meadows that year as the highest ranked tennis player in the world.
However, with Andre not getting any younger, Andy’s win in New York appeared to have come at an ideal moment in time. Who could have known that there was a dangerous Swiss lurking in the shadows?
A Sizzling Summer
Andy Roddick was a successful player on the junior circuit. He first showed his full potential on hard courts by winning both the Australian and U.S. Open junior titles in 2000. But it was not until 2003 that the man from Nebraska really announced his arrival on the big stage.
Roddick started his breakthrough year on a high note, reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open. He also had a very successful grass court season, winning the title at the Queen’s Club and reaching the semifinals of Wimbledon (no prizes for guessing who beat him there).
However, it was the hard-court season following Wimbledon in which the 20-year-old really started to shine and show the world that he was a serious contender for the "biggies."
In 2003, Roddick won both of the Masters Series events which take place in the run-up to the New York gig: Montreal and Cincinnati. Although he entered the Open ranked No. 4 in the world, he was definitely a strong favourite for the title. After all, he was on a hot winning streak; some might even say that he was "in the zone."
Most opponents who came up against Roddick in Flushing Meadows that year had no answers for the American’s huge serve and booming forehand. Ivan Ljubičić managed to grapple one set off Roddick in their second round meeting, but it wasn’t until "Super Saturday" that Andy was truly tested.
In the semifinals, Roddick found himself down two sets to love against a certain Mr. Nalbandian. David Nalbandian—a talented player known for his patches of brilliance intermingled with a questionable mentality—once again displayed an inability to grab a match, losing the third set tiebreak (including a match point) and paving the way for his opponent to make his comeback. Roddick went on to win the match in five sets.
Second Sunday in the City that Never Sleeps
Despite Roddick’s long semifinal, he entered the Arthur Ashe Stadium that second Sunday as the favourite and with 18 consecutive match wins under his belt.
However, his opponent, Juan Carlos Ferrero, was not a man to be underestimated. At the time, as the world No. 3, Ferrero was ranked one place higher than Roddick, and he'd taken out two former champions in the forms of Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt. Ferrero, who had also won the French Open that year, was in form of his life.
Therefore, it was perhaps somewhat remarkable that the final only lasted one hour and 42 minutes. It turned out not to be the battle that some may have expected.
The first set was, unsurprisingly, full of big serving from the American’s end. However, Roddick also held his own against Ferrero—a strong player from the back of the court—in the many baseline exchanges.
When Roddick broke serve in the fourth game of the set, there was a sense of inevitability (as there often is when Roddick breaks). It looked as though the first set had already been decided.
Sure enough, Ferrero was unable to stop the might of Roddick’s powerful serves and explosive forehands, and the American clinched the first set by a score of six games to three.
Ferrero managed to up his level in the second set. Both men held on to their service games to take the set to a tiebreak. Although Ferrero dived to make an impressive backhand volley on the first point, Roddick whipped a forehand winner back over the net to win the point.
Ferrero managed to hold on to the next two points on his serve. However, from thereon in the Spaniard appeared to crumble, and Roddick quickly claimed the next six points and the second set.
The third set went much the same way as the first. Ferrero did have a chance to break Roddick in the seventh game of the set but failed to convert either of his break-points. After that, the Spaniard went on to lose his next service game, handing Roddick the break with a double-fault.
From then on it was smooth sailing for the American. He remained amazingly calm for someone serving for their first major title, producing a love service game (including three aces) to capture the championship in straight sets: 6-3, 7-6, 6-3.
As soon as Roddick had hit the ace that would win him the trophy, his face turned to a picture of disbelief. He dropped to his knees and covered his face with his hands. Barely holding in the tears, he then climbed into the stands for a big group hug with his team, including his coach at that time, Brad Gilbert, and his pop star girlfriend, Mandy Moore.
He still seemed to be in shock during the presentation ceremony, telling the crowd: “I came to this tournament so many times as a kid and watched from way up there. I am just in disbelief, to be honest.”
Andy, who had only just turned 21 years old, certainly looked like the next big name in tennis. He went on to claim the world No. 1 spot at the end of 2003 and held on to it until February of the following year when it was taken by Roger Federer following his win at the Australian Open.
The Second Coming?
Roddick has been one of the most consistent tennis players of this era, finishing inside the top 10 at the end of every season since 2002. Although it was a man from Switzerland who went on to dominate men’s tennis to an extent which the likes of have never been seen before and may never be seen again, Roddick has always been in the mix.
He has reached a Slam final four times since his win in New York (three Wimbledons and another U.S. Open) to be thwarted by the same man each time. And that's not to mention the many defeats at the latter stages of Slams by the same Swiss maestro.
Still, Andy has not had a bad career by any means. Sure, it is true that he may well have won a couple more slams if Federer had not been around, but he has still amassed 27 career titles to date. He is also a greatly respected member of the U.S. Davis Cup Team, leading his side to victory in 2007.
Since teaming up with Larry Stefanki at the end of last year, Roddick has become a brand new player. He has slimmed down, got fitter, and added more variety to his game.
Often accused of being one-dimensional, Roddick has proved this year that he is more than just a big serve. With a vastly improved backhand, Roddick has been shooting many a winner down the line. His forehand is still a powerful weapon, and his net play has not only increased in frequency but also in its success rate.
All this has added up to a semifinal appearance in Melbourne, his best result in Paris to date, and a near-victory over one of the greatest players of all time on said player’s favourite turf at SW19 in a gripping final.
As we approach the U.S. Open, many are wondering whether Andy could add to that lone Grand Slam title six years down the line. Many feel that the hard-working Roddick, who is much-liked for his wit and sporting personality, deserves to be more than a "one-Slam wonder."
Could Andy be the one to stop his arch-nemesis’ incredible run in New York? All will be revealed shortly...