Hall of Fame inductee Andy Roddick was born in Omaha Nebraska in 1984 to his mother Blanche and his father Jerry, a teacher and a businessman respectively. He was the youngest of three brothers, who all showed an aptitude for tennis. His brother John Roddick was an All-American at the University of Georgia and is now the head coach of the men’s tennis programme at the University of Central Florida. He spent part of his childhood in Austin, Texas, and also lived in Boca Raton, Florida, where he spent time with future pros Mardy Fish and the Williams sisters. He had an outstanding junior career, despite considering quitting when he was 17, and at the end of 2000, he was ranked the number 1 junior in the world.
Roddick is unquestionably the greatest men’s tennis player America has produced since Agassi and Sampras. He finished nine consecutive years ranked inside the top ten from 2002 to 2010. He also won five Masters 1000 titles; no other American has won even one in singles since. He is also the last American man to rank number 1 in the world, and the last American man to achieve a year end number one ranking. He was a 32-time champion on the ATP tour, winning titles at every level. However, impressive as all of those achievements are, one triumph stands clear of the rest, and that was his win at the 2003 US Open.
If 2003 was the beginning of the ‘Big Four’ era and the end of the time of Agassi and Sampras and the other stalwarts of the 1990’s, that was forgotten for two weeks in New York. Andy Roddick entered the tournament at Flushing Meadows ranked fourth in the world and playing the best tennis of his life. He picked up his first two Masters titles in back to back successes in Montreal and Cincinnati. In Canada at the then Canada Masters (now the Rogers Cup), Roddick defeated recent Wimbledon champion Roger Federer in the semi-finals before dismissing Nalbandian in the finals for the loss of just four games. In Cincinnati Roddick won a tight match against his countryman Mardy Fish, rebounding from losing the first set 6 games to 4 to take the next two in tiebreakers.
Expectations of the young American were high then when he arrived at the year’s final Grand Slam. Roddick began against Britain’s Tim Henman, who had been ranked as high as fourth in the world the previous year and would reach the semi-finals in New York the following year. But his elegant serve-and-volley game could not withstand Roddick’s power and he fell to a straight sets defeat. He next faced off against Ivan Ljubicic, who was to a reach a career high ranking of world number 3 in 2006. They split the first two sets, but Roddick then powered to the third set, and took the fourth in a tiebreaker which he won 10 points to 8. Brazilian Flavio Saretta and Xavier Malisse of Belgium fell in the third and fourth rounds respectively both in straight sets as Roddick moved into the quarterfinals.
In the quarterfinals, he faced the consistent Dutchman Sjeng Schalken who had made the semi-finals in 2002. Schalken was not to repeat his 2002 run, however, as he won just nine games in his defeat to Roddick, who moved into the semi-finals. There he faced his toughest match of the tournament, against David Nalbandian, the Argentinian who he had so easily defeated in Montreal just weeks before. This time he and Nalbandian tussled in a five set epic. Nalbandian won the first two sets and held two match points in a third set tiebreak. Roddick fought back and took the set. With that Nalbandian’s chance of victory seemed to evaporate. Roddick took the next two sets 6-1 6-3, to move into his first Major final. There he played Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain, the champion at Roland Garros earlier in the year. But against Roddick on a hard court, backed by a patriotic crowd, he could do nothing. Fittingly, Roddick sealed his first and only Slam triumph with an ace, to the delight of the crowd.
Roddick was to play Roger Federer 24 times in his career, but the Swiss was in many ways more of a nemesis to Roddick than he was a rival. That’s because of their 24 meetings, Roddick won just 3. Those 3 victories came in the aforementioned match in Montreal, in 2008 in Miami and in their final match in 2012 again in Miami. In between those three victories came countless heartbreaking losses, including in four Grand Slam finals, three at Wimbledon and one at the US Open. The most famous, and likely the most painful, came in 2009 when Roddick played one of the best matches of his life in the Wimbledon final. He won 39 games, more than any other man has ever won in a Slam final, but ultimately came up short. Federer broke the Roddick serve for the first time in the match in the thirtieth game of the decider, and took the match. It was in many ways a victory that summed up their rivalry, Roddick fought with grit and determination, but ultimately came up short against an all time great.
Serbian Novak Djokovic may not be the first player to come to mind when thinking of Roddick’s rivals, but he and Roddick shared an intense rivalry. Roddick is also one of the few players to be able to claim a positive head to head record against Djokovic leading it 5 matches to 4, whilst Federer, Nadal, Murray and Wawrinka all trail the Serb. It was also often not the best tempered of rivalries, with Roddick once reacting adversely to Djokovic’s call for medical timeouts during a match between the two at the US Open. Djokovic argued back in the media, and there was simmering discontent between the two thereafter.
Roddick’s game was in many ways defined by his power, particularly on his serve. He was regularly able to hit first serves at over 140 mph and even on occasion, such as at the 2004 US Open venture beyond the 150 mph mark. However, his power was not limited to the serve, as he also possessed a big forehand, which he used to great effect to dominate points. However, Roddick should not be seen as only a player blessed with a big serve and forehand. His backhand was a strength and was superior by far to most of his countrymen’s. He was also a good mover, and his slice backhand was an underrated but excellent shot all the same. His all-round game, similar to his friend and contemporary Mardy Fish, is something no other American men’s singles player has been able to replicate since. That goes some way to explaining why no other American has been able to replicate Roddick’s success.
In all Roddick is a very deserving inductee to the Tennis Hall of Fame. He may not be remembered in the same breath as some of his contemporaries such as Federer, Djokovic and Nadal. But he will rightly be remembered for the fine play he brought to the court, and the engaging personality he was on tour.
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