Sports Sermon: Roddick’s career unfulfilled

September 6, 2012

I grew up with Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, as did the rest of my generation. They peaked during my childhood rather than during my teenage years, similar to Michael Jordan and Cal Ripken Jr. But for that same reason, I never embraced any of these legends, who are outside of my generation, as my own.

Andy Roddick was supposed to be that player for me. He was the best of that new wave of American tennis players, there to usher in another era of dominance and allow Sampras and Agassi to ride off gracefully into the sunset.

His smash mouth game seemed perfectly suited to the role, but over time, it became his greatest flaw. Sure, Roddick was gifted with a monstrous serve, but when it came down to it, the rest of his game just lacked the purity of a Sampras or Agassi. It doesn’t help that he ran into a one-man tennis machine named Roger Federer on countless occasions during his prime.

Still, that all changed in 2003. Roddick was at the top of his game, and it seemed not even Federer could stop him. His victory in that year’s U.S. Open captivated America in a way few individual athletes have in the past. From his late-night birthday victory to the triumphant finals over Juan Carlos Ferrero, the tournament was supposed to be the turning point for Roddick and a revival for American tennis.

If only it had turned out that way. While Roddick played with a fire unseen from a player since Agassi’s prime, he just could not overcome that figurative hump the way he did in 2003. He lost to Federer in the Wimbledon final in both 2004 and 2005 before a series of injuries took his career into a downward spiral. The biggest news concerning Andy Roddick became his marriage to swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker—not a bad consolation prize.

Roddick flopped in a tennis-sense. But, he didn’t just fall over and die; in 2009 he experienced a renaissance of sorts. He made the Wimbledon final and gave Federer (by this time, an unstoppable force) everything he could handle before succumbing in five sets to the Swiss Army Knife.

Shortly after his resurgence, though, Roddick reverted back to his passionless play, setting up a sorry couple of seasons that saw his world ranking dip into 20s and 30s. Players like Mardy Fish and James Blake jumped ahead of him on the American depth chart and performed ably—they just never had that boundless talent and potential Roddick so often failed to harness.

At the very least, with Roddick’s presence, American tennis had something of a face for their sport. He may not have taken the world by storm the way Agassi or Sampras before him did, but his flash and power (though not his quick temper) made him an ideal role model for aspiring tennis players. Now, though, American tennis finds its roughest period, as it reles on an unproven generation to capture that magic that’s been lost since 2003.

It is still a realistic proposition, of course. Roddick’s emotional swan song through the U.S. Open this season showed just how much the New York crowd embraced him over the years and, perhaps more importantly, is hungry for another success story.  His career ended unceremoniously at the hands of Argentine Juan Martin del Potro in four sets yesterday, but not without a needed adrenaline shot by his fans to get him that far in the first place.

The match was marked by a rain delay Tuesday night, a torrential downpour that delayed the fourth round until yesterday afternoon. Frankly, if I had stopped watching there, it may have been a more fitting ending to my affection for Andy Roddick.

For all he’s done on the court, Roddick has always left me wanting more. For every 50-ace dominating match, there was one where he simply could not return the ball to save his life. For every passionate service game he won, there was the set he simply mailed in.

I truly enjoyed watching Roddick play tennis—his uniqueness drew me to him. But, as with halting my fandom with a rain delay, I can’t shake the feeling that his career ended too soon and, honestly, with a bit of a whimper. His career, one ultimately marred by unfulfilled potential, just feels incomplete.

Kevin Joseph
Kevin Joseph is a Contributor Editor and former Sports Editor for the The Georgetown Voice.

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