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Farewell Andy, and Godspeed!

Roddick loses and leaves, tennis loses and continues.

By 9.6.12

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The rain stopped play at the beginning of the first set tiebreak last night and when they got back on the court this afternoon to finish their fourth-round match in the U.S. Open championships, the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium was already revved up and rooting for Andy Roddick, the boy from Nebraska who took the title here nine years ago and has been trying to regain it ever since.

It should not be thought that Roddick's inability to win another U.S. Open -- or any other Grand Slam championship -- is viewed as a failure by his fans, his teammates on the U.S. Davis Cup team, his coaches or his rivals, certainly not the man who beat him today, Juan Martin del Potro. Roddick has an enviable record. No other American man has won a Grand Slam event since his victory here, and no other American in the past decade has accumulated as many trophies in other tournaments as he has.

To get to this round, he beat an up-and-coming American, Rhyne Williams, and a promising Australian, Bernard Tomic, finally a talented and athletic Italian, Fabio Fognini, each of whom would have gone at least a round deeper had they encountered anyone other than Andy. This is, admittedly, a slightly cockeyed notion; how can you know? The point is that Roddick played during these past two weeks as well as he has since his glory years, between the '03 triumph and the near-win against Roger Federer in the 2009 Wimbledon final, a game immediately recognized as a classic.

It would be inaccurate to say he has been on a downward slope the past three years; but he has suffered injuries and, at 30 -- younger than Federer, whose loss to Tomas Berdych tonight won the big Czech a ticket to the semis, where he will meet Andy Murray, who rallied to beat Croatian star Marin Cilic -- he must feel that he would not do well enough in coming years to justify taking the time from other pursuits.

Roddick played excellent tennis, the kind he played throughout the tournament and in particular since announcing that this would be his swan song last week. His charges to the net, his catches of impossible passing shots, his aces when he needs them -- contrary to yesterday's dispatch, del Potro is not as much an ace-hitter as at first appears, and Roddick out-aced him in this match -- his patience during long rallies, his sure-footedness and court sense were all in place. Surely many spectators, while riveted to an exciting match, must have had a moment of wistful thinking, that had he played this way more consistently in past years he would have more than the 32 titles, impressive as the number is, and surely some of them would be slams.

Hogwash. Roddick did as well as he could and he did very well indeed and he is not the kind of man who says "coulda…" Delpo, as it happens, was better today, Roddick would be the first to say so. He was less spectacular, making fewer risky net shots and hitting fewer dangerous down-the-lines and crosscourt corner shots, but he played a classy and classic baseline power game, kept Roddick way, way behind his own baseline and making merciless soft drop shots when he got him back there. (Roddick got a few of those too.) It was a fine match, and in the end consistency won.

The epic final at Wimbledon in 2009, when Roger Federer took the fifth set at 16-14, was in certain ways typical of Andy Roddick's career. I say in certain ways, because it would be misleading to suggest a loss typifies his tennis achievement. But it is the case that he happened to compete in an era in which the grit and brilliance of that famous set and match were shared by several other players who, additionally, possessed skills that eluded him too often.

When you are at the level of Andy Roddick and his contemporaries, you cannot rely on a fantastic serve and a magnificent forehand -- his favorites -- because the other fellow knows how to reply to them. You have to get the ball away from him, which means you have to "control the point," in the classic formulation, in order to be in a position to set up a winning play. Whenever Roddick does this, he is quick, dramatic. He rushes the net and puts the ball away, or puts a forehand on it and it suddenly reappears where no one expected. But the skill to do this can escape the very best, as it escaped Federer last night. It escaped Andy a little too often: it is perhaps telling that it was always, if I err not, Federer who stopped him in all the grand slam finals he lost.

One skill that is central to Andy Roddick is loyalty and decency. He is extremely well-liked by fellow players because he is straight up, helpful, never complains, does the right thing. He befriended and trained with Serena and Venus Williams before any of them became champions and the Misses Williams have been staunch supporters ever since. He would not compete in a Dubai tournament in 2009 (he was the defending champion) because the United Arab Emirates refused a visa to Shahar Peer, who happens to be Israeli. Other players joined the protest, and the UAR rulers found a way to correct their discrimination the following year.

Sometimes abrasive with umps (though not in a mean way) and often funny, Roddick said after the match with del Potro, when the audience at Arthur Ashe Stadium gave him a huge ovation, "For once I don't know what to say." He will know what to say and he will say it well, when the emotion recedes a little and Andy Roddick gets on his way again, to new ways of living at the great game of life.

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About the Author

Roger Kaplan, a Washington-based writer, covers the Middle East and Africa (and tennis) for The American Spectator.