The Untold Legacy of Andy Roddick

Often criticized and rarely praised, Roddick’s retirement in 2012 marked the death of the American men’s tennis player.

Andy Roddick's last U.S. Open appearance.

Andy Roddick plays his last U.S. Open in 2012.
(Photo courtesy of The Daily Telegraph)

Andy Roddick, following his U.S. Open victory in 2003 at just 21 years of age, was predictably labeled the real deal. A stunningly powerful forehand and a hulk-like first-serve, Roddick possessed a marketable skill-set even for the seldom marketed sport of tennis. What was expected of the prompt grand slam winner? Go toe-to-toe with the already accomplished Roger Federer for the next decade; exchanging grand slam titles along the way. Instead, American tennis fans were left with a popular narrative of “undeniable potential, but underachiever, nonetheless.”

Nearly three years removed from Roddick’s career, conversations regarding one of the best tennis players of the decade is uncommon. Inconsistencies plagued the American star throughout his career; accusations (fair or unfair) swirled of Roddick lacking mental toughness, and his marginally improved backhand was a weakness exposed by the game’s very best.

“John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras all represented eras of supremacy for the United States. Roddick was just the next in line, right?”

However, maybe the defining moment of his legacy could be traced back to the 2009 Wimbledon final. On the brink of breaking through for his second grand slam, he failed, losing in five sets to Roger Federer. This capped off a frequent theme for Roddick. Of his four Grand Slam final losses, all came to the legendary Federer, three of which came on Fed’s preferred grass surface of Wimbledon. Ultimately, those who dwell on his undeniable potential point to the 2009 Wimbledon final versus Federer as evidence for their Roddick legacy thesis: underachiever.

But, that is not the narrative that should define Andy Roddick.

The picture I paint is very different. Playing in the greatest and most diverse era of men’s tennis, Andy Roddick overachieved. Roger Federer (1998), Rafael Nadal (2002), and Novak Djokovic (2004) burst onto the scene right around the same time as Roddick (2000). Roger Federer (17), Rafael Nadal (14), and Novak Djokovic (8) own a combined 39 grand slam titles. From 2004 to 2012 (Roddick’s prime to retirement), the only other players to win Grand Slams were Marat Safin, Gaston Gaudio, and Juan Martin del Potro.

Maybe this comparison was natural. American tennis fans, after all, were used to dominating the sport. Previously, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras all represented eras of supremacy for the United States. Roddick was just the next in line, right?

Then, what exactly, went wrong with the Roddick era? Was it bad luck, or was he just not as good as the competition of his generation? In truth, it was a bit of both. Analogous to the NBA’s Patrick Ewing being trapped in the Michael Jordan-era, Roddick was unfortunate to have played at a time controlled by mainly two players: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. For some, this plays into the underachiever narrative — pointing to a plethora of talent only to be perpetually knocked off by Federer and Nadal. But, those are two of the greatest tennis players ever, if not the greatest ever. To compare in such a narrow minded way does Andy Roddick a true injustice.

Instead, fans must compare taking a holistic view of Roddick’s career. Within the toughest era of men’s tennis, he managed to appear in five Grand Slam finals, win 32 titles (including one U.S. Open), post an impressive 612–213 record, and capture a 2007 Davis Cup victory for the United States. Not too bad for an underachiever, huh?

The Death of the American Men’s Tennis Player

When Roddick retired in 2012, it was the end of an era for United States men’s tennis. Although many would say the outlook of men’s tennis in America has been bleak for some time, Roddick’s decade-long run kept it afloat. From 2002 to 2011, Roddick was ranked in the top-10, reaching the pinnacle of number one in the World in 2003 for 18 straight weeks. At 21 years old, he was the youngest ever to be ranked number one in men’s tennis history.

Roddick was the face of American men’s tennis for this century. With his retirement a few years ago, what young gun has stepped up to replace him? Even for die-hard tennis fans and Roddick naysayers, the debate remains clouded. Currently, no American sits in the top-10 of the rankings. Just one sits in the top-20, and that is John Isner. Overall, there are only five American male tennis players in the top-100 rankings. At 29 years old, Isner is the best representative of today’s U.S. men’s tennis. With his best finish in a Grand Slam being the quarter-finals, it seems as though the Roddick era has built the bridge to the “death-of-American-men’s-tennis” era. For tennis fans who found the Sampras/Agassi transition to the Roddick era disappointing, I can only imagine how they feel about the present state of American men’s tennis.

You choose the narrative: “Andy Roddick, the underachieving disappointment,” or “Andy Roddick, one of the best American men’s tennis players of all time.” In defense of one of my all-time favorite athletes, I’ll take the latter.

About Tyler Michels

Tyler is an NC State alum living in Raleigh, NC. Growing up in Northwest New Jersey, Tyler developed a love for New York sports teams, driving his desire to become a writer. In his free time, Tyler can probably be found on a golf course.

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