Andy Roddick was discussing his retirement-postponing victory during a TV interview when a group of fans interrupted by chanting, ”One more year! One more year!” How about one more match? That, at least, is a given now. Roddick’s not quite ready to quit just yet.
A day after surprisingly announcing the U.S. Open will be the last tournament of his career, Roddick dominated Australian teenager Bernard Tomic from start to finish Friday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium and won 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 to reach the third round. ”I had no idea what was going to happen out there,” Roddick said. ”I’ve played a lot of matches and that was a different kind of nerves than I’ve had before, so that was surprising for me.” The 2003 U.S. Open champion and former No. 1-ranked player took the time to look around the packed arena, eyeing people dancing in the stands during changeovers and taking it all in – in case this was it.
While the players warmed up on court before the match, the stadium announcer noted that Roddick was ”competing in his final U.S. Open,” and so he let out a deep exhale, then lifted his racket to acknowledge the fans’ raucous applause. He made sure to pay attention to every detail, even getting rid of one tennis ball in the second set’s second game after pointing out to the chair umpire that it was the sort of red-logo ball used for women’s matches. ”There are no guarantees for me now,” Roddick said, ”so I was trying to notice stuff.” No need to do that too much on this night, because he will get to play once more before walking away from professional tennis. Roddick will face 59th-ranked Fabio Fognini of Italy on Sunday. ”He has a place in tennis history,” Fognini said. ”To play him on center court, in one of his last matches – or the last, who knows?”
Roddick turned 30 on Thursday, and held a news conference to say he would quit after a season of injuries and poor results at Grand Slam tournaments. But he sure looked good against the 43rd-ranked Tomic, hitting 13 aces, including on the final point. With that, Roddick flashed a smile as wide as can be, and the crowd of more than 24,000 roared their approval. ”There were a lot of people; that’s the smallest it felt to me. It almost felt cozy for once,” Roddick said. ”It’s a big place for that.” The spectators expressed their gratitude throughout, offering repeated ovations and plenty of camera flashes, supporting their guy with his U.S.-flag-decorated shoes. ”It’s a humbling experience, for sure. It’s certainly nice to feel appreciated at the end of all of it. … It’s a good feeling,” the 20th-seeded Roddick said. ”Kind of an outpouring of support from inside the tennis world and outside the tennis world in the last 24 hours is certainly not something that I expected to the lengths it’s come from.”
Asked whether he got emotional while preparing for what could have been his final appearance as a professional tennis player, Roddick said: ”I’ve been trying to be good all day. Had a rough patch there, about 15 minutes before the match. Made the mistake of walking by one of the TVs while they were doing slow, dramatic things. I assume it was set to an ’80s ballad. It got me a little bit.” Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but one such song, Journey’s ”Don’t Stop Believin”’ from 1981, was ringing through the arena as Roddick left for the locker room.
That’s the sort of wit Roddick became as known for as his big, big serve – he used to hold the record of 155 mph – and his superb forehand, along with an unbending competitive streak. In addition to his U.S. Open trophy, the last Grand Slam singles title for an American man, Roddick lost four major finals, all to Roger Federer. Friday was not going to represent his final farewell became clear right away. Roddick hit three aces in the very first game – two at 136 mph, another at 138 mph – and added two more – at 125 mph, then 134 mph – while moving out to a 3-0 lead. And he enjoyed himself out there, skipping back to the baseline after one early overhead smash, and looking up to his mother and brother and coach after capping the opening set with a 136 mph ace.
After a sliding, stretching, drop volley winner early in the third set, part of a run of eight games to end things, Roddick threw his arms overhead and waved them as some spectators leaped to their feet. Not only was Tomic outclassed, but by the late stages, TV commentator and seven-time major champion John McEnroe was telling ESPN2 viewers that the Australian maybe should be fined for lack of effort.
Asked about that assessment, Tomic initially responded casually, saying: ”Well, I think he’s probably right.” But when pressed some more, Tomic bristled at a reporter and said, ”That’s how I play. If you think that’s that, it’s up to you. What is your name?”
When the reporter told him, Tomic replied: ”I’ll remember you.”
The 19-year-old Tomic is not a nobody; at Wimbledon last year, he became the youngest quarterfinalist since Boris Becker in 1986, and then he finished the season as the youngest member of the top 100 in the ATP rankings.
But this was Roddick’s night, a celebration of his career and a chance to extend it. The match that followed, top-seeded Victoria Azarenka’s 6-0, 6-1 victory over No. 28 Zheng Jie of China, was very much reduced to afterthought.
Other men’s winners Friday included defending champion Novak Djokovic, 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro and 2001 champion Lleyton Hewitt, who came back to beat Gilles Muller 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-4.
The day’s biggest surprise was 18-year-old Laura Robson’s 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2 victory over 2011 French Open champion Li Na, setting up a fourth-round match against defending women’s champion Sam Stosur. Robson ended four-time major champion Kim Clijsters’ singles career by beating her in the second round. Unlike Roddick, Clijsters let everyone know months ago that she would quit after the U.S. Open.
Hewitt’s a year older than Roddick and said it was ”a little bit surprising” that the American made his retirement known in the midst of a tournament.
”He obviously just felt like the time is right. Everyone is different,” said Hewitt, who also won Wimbledon in 2002 and has dealt with a series of health issues, including hip and toe operations. ”For me, I feel like I’ve done all the hard yards coming back from surgery. I sort of want to go out on my terms a little bit more.”
Del Potro, who is seeded seventh, eliminated one of the young U.S. men expected to succeed Roddick near the top of the game, 20-year-old Ryan Harrison. ”There’s some people that are going to speculate he might have more energy and success left in him, but he’s not a guy who wants to do it halfway. And that’s something he’s taught me and I respect that about him,” Harrison said. ”He could easily coast through and play Slams next year and be winning a lot of matches, etc., etc., but if he can’t give himself a chance to win the tournaments, he doesn’t want to play and that’s why I think he decided what he decided.”