What a horrible way to lose. Andy Roddick won more points in today's match against John Isner, was the net winner of service breaks, fought back from two sets down to force a fifth set and even a tiebreaker...and still lost.
But it wasn't just any loss. This one won't be shaken off like the one in Washington a month ago or Cincinnati two weeks ago. That's because this was the U.S. Open, the only major he's ever won and thus the slam he enters with the most confidence.
Andy was becoming a near afterthought as the season was winding down last year. But in what little off-season that tennis players have, Roddick really worked. He lost 15 pounds, made every part of his game open to instruction, and developed himself into a more rounded player.
And it paid off. He made the quarterfinals in Australia, the second week in Paris (his first time to do so), and beat Andy Murray on the way to the finals at Wimbledon. He had set himself up with some momentum heading into the U.S. hard court season culminating in the U.S. Open.
I was pulling for Andy to win the U.S. Open so I've been paying attention to his matches. And I have to say that there has been a drop-off since Wimbledon. Something mentally or emotionally may have just cracked on the grass courts in London.
I tried to write off a loss to Sam Querry, two losses to Del Potro, and the fact that Andy was having real issues winning tiebreakers to the hip injury he suffered at Wimbledon. But, he's moving too well for that to be that much of a factor. Besides, injuries don't just show up in tiebreakers.
I think the tiebreaker in the second set at Wimbledon, where he choked after being up 5-2, has haunted him. Roddick won another set that day (the fourth set) meaning that the fourth set would have been the deciding set, had he not choked in the second. Roddick was clearly beating Federer that day.
Roddick has only beaten Federer twice so I'm not saying he was actually better than Federer that day, just that he was performing better. Part of that could have been because of Borg, Sampras, and Laver in the audience and what was riding on the outcome. No doubt the gravity of the situation was weighing on Roger that day. But whatever the reason was, Roddick had the chance to go up 2-0 and blew it.
After he lost, I believe that he realized at that point that he will probably never win Wimbledon. And he already knows he's never going to win Paris. That meant there would be more pressure on his performance in the U.S. Open...especially since Nadal was entering with a question mark hanging over him. This may have been Andy's Waterloo.
As we've seen, things can change fast in tennis. For a year, Nadal was winning everything. He won the French, won Wimbledon, rose to number one in the world, won Olympic Gold, and won the Australian Open in an eight month span. And Federer was being discussed as if his glory was behind him.
Now Federer has won the French, recaptured number one, won Wimbledon, tied and then passed Pete Sampras, and is playing as well as he ever has. Finally, this time last year, everyone was talking about Murray as he reached the finals at the U.S. Open. Four slams and a year later, he still hasn't won one.
So there is no reason to believe that things can't turn for Andy. But the window is certainly closing. Del Potro is coming on strong, Murray looks destined to win a major at some point, Djokovic has taken on a second coach, Federer is back to his 2005-2006 form, and though most people believe that Nadal might have to alter his game but he will be back.
Of the top seven players, only Roger is older. But the way Roger plays, so lightly and effortlessly, and the fact that Andy has had shoulder issues before means Roddick is more likely to have to retire from physical issues sooner, or have his prime cut shorter.
As players like Murray and Djokovic and Del Potro enter their primes from an age standpoint, Roddick will be entering his sunset.
All of this has to be entering into Roddick's mind. He was obviously distraught after Wimbledon and was once again today. The difference was that after Wimbledon, he knew he had another slam opportunity in two months. Now, he'll have to wait until 2010.
And the next slam tournament, the Australian Open, has not been his best tournament. Roddick's made the finals at Wimbledon three times and has won the U.S. Open. But his best result at the Australian has been three losses in the semifinals.
Andy's actions after the match today sure seemed like someone who was grappling with his tennis mortality. When he is losing to the "next generation" and not even to the best and brightest stars of that next generation, he has to be doing some soul-searching.
The 2009 year may have been his last really good chance and, today, he realized that it had closed on him without a major title.