NEW YORK (AP) — Whether it turns out to be a tearful farewell or simply another fun-filled evening of tennis, Friday night figures to be electric in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Pretty much like any night Andy Roddick is playing at the U.S. Open.
The man who has defined American tennis, for better and worse, over the last decade or so, announced on Thursday, his 30th birthday, that this year’s U.S. Open will be his last tournament.
He’s calling it quits at the scene of his biggest triumph, the 2003 U.S. Open, and at the place where his name was virtually always on the marquee, even as his days as the world’s top-ranked player faded further into the rearview mirror.
Wearing a black T-shirt with a black cap pulled low over his eyes, Roddick came into his hastily called news conference, held shortly before a night session that featured No. 1 Roger Federer’s straight-set victory and Venus Williams’ three-set loss to No. 6 Angelique Kerber.
“I’ll make this short and sweet,” Roddick said. “I’ve decided that this is going to be my last tournament.”
But there will be some time to linger, to reflect on a career that produced only the one major title but always kept people filing through the turnstiles at Flushing Meadows. They came because they knew they’d get their money’s worth from a gritty, no-nonsense guy who helped the U.S. to the 2007 Davis Cup title and remains the last American man to hoist a trophy at a Grand Slam.
“Do we love to have a guy like that out there? Sure,” said Gordon Smith, the CEO of the U.S. Tennis Association. “Was it great that he’s an American? Sure. But the greatest part was that he battled. He was a warrior. And he loved to play for his country. We could use another dozen Andy Roddicks.”
Certainly, Smith isn’t the only one who feels that way, and Roddick said he was announcing his retirement a little early because he wanted a proper chance to say goodbye — not only to the hundreds of players he battled but the dozens he mentored, as well.
“He’s been my biggest role model the last 10 years playing tennis, watching tennis,” said American Sam Querrey, one of the many young players who has spent years trying to replace Roddick at the top of the country’s tennis ladder.
“It doesn’t get to be ‘Besides Andy Roddick, who is there?'” said 20-year-old Ryan Harrison, who sometimes trains with Roddick near their home in Austin, Texas. “It’s now, like, ‘What’s coming?’ and I’m ready.”
But before that, Roddick’s second-round opponent will be 19-year-old Bernard Tomic and, yes, there’s at least a decent chance the 43rd-ranked Australian could beat him.
The prospect of Roddick falling so early in the fortnight in front of the home fans used to be unthinkable. Not the case anymore — he’s lost in the second round in 2010 and the third in 2009 — and as the summer of 2012 wore on, he could see the future, not as a top-20 player anymore but as someone struggling to make it into the second week of events like this one.
No way to play, in Roddick’s estimation.
“Probably the first time in my career that I can sit here and say I’m not sure that I can put everything into it physically and emotionally,” he said. “I don’t know that I want to disrespect the game by coasting home. I had plans to play a smaller schedule next year. But the more I thought about it, I think you’ve either got to be all in or not.”
And while his fans and critics may have questioned his tactics and some of his brutish antics over his colorful career, nobody ever doubted that Roddick was always in it, 100 percent.
He had one of the biggest serves on tour and was still clocking in as high as 141 mph in a first-round win over 21-year-old American Rhyne Williams earlier this week. And he could be stubborn, willing to stay out there for hours and pound away from the baseline, even as the players got stronger, faster, more consistent and the results started going against him.
Some say his only real mistake was coming along at the wrong time, sandwiched in between the last golden era of American tennis — Agassi and Pete Sampras — and the current golden era of worldwide tennis, featuring Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
After his 2003 win at Flushing, Roddick ran into Federer the final four times he made a Grand Slam final and lost all four. The most memorable of the meetings was the 16-14 fifth set at Wimbledon in 2009 — the last time Roddick played for a major title.
“But let’s forget about that,” Federer said of the loss. “He was in those Wimbledon finals. He could have gotten that title. That’s what I said when I beat him in ’09. He deserves this title, as well. In my mind, he is a Wimbledon champion as well, a wonderful ambassador for the game.”
Besides settling down with his supermodel wife, Brooklyn Decker, Roddick says he wants to get more involved in a youth tennis center he’s started in Austin, Texas. He’s got other projects, too, “that excite me a lot right now.”
For now, he lives in the present, knowing every match this week (and next?) could be his last at a tennis park that has long felt like his second home.
Back in 1991, Roddick was at Flushing Meadows — a 9-year-old kid who only had a grounds pass, but somehow made it into the stadium whenever Jimmy Connors was playing, pumping up the volume during a memorable run to the semifinals at age 39.
Is Roddick ready to let it all hang out one last time and create some magic of his own?
“We’ll see,” he said. “I wish it was a choice.”