Last week, Andy Roddick announced that this year’s US Open will be the final event of his professional tennis career. The 30 year old American advanced to the fourth round of the US Open after a Sunday win against Fabio Fognini and he will face a tough test against Argentine Juan Martin del Potro on Tuesday.
Roddick has been the marquee American player throughout most of his career. Guys like Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras were nearing the end of their careers when Roddick was rising through the junior ranks and onto the professional scene. Players like Mardy Fish and James Blake never seemed to want to take the reins and become the big American name. Roddick jumped on the opportunity when he rose to number in the world rankings in 2003.
With a solid finish at the US Open, Roddick will most likely finish in the top ten in career prize money on the ATP tour. High finishes at the Grand Slams are necessary for inflating on-court earnings, and Roddick has definitely had his success in those. Roddick has three runner-up finishes at Wimbledon (2004, 2005, and 2009). He also has his biggest career victory which was a 2003 US Open championship. The 32 career victories on the tour also help a bit in the career earnings department.
The pending retirement from Roddick comes at a time when American men’s tennis is far from its peak potential. Currently the highest ranked American player is John Isner at number 10. After Isner though, there is some drop off. Roddick is ranked 22, but he’s obviously retiring. Mardy Fish has had a career revival of sorts and is ranked 25, but he turns 31 in less than 10 days. Sam Querrey is ranked 28. The crop of American young guns looks to be a bit thin as well (ratings from atpworldtour.com).
Without the super star American player, is it possible to grow the sport in America? I think the answer would have to be no. I always compare the ATP and the PGA tours because they have similar set up and are individual sports. Look at the Tiger effect. He is American and he grew the game to new heights. He had his incident, and interest seemed to wane a bit. Even now, you can see how much the Tiger effect plays in TV ratings each and every week. It really is incredible.
American tennis had Agassi and Sampras, which kept all sports fans enthralled for Grand Slam after Grand Slam. After their time had come and gone, the baton was passed off to Roddick. Clearly the shoes that needed to be filled were quite large, but Roddick did his best. He captivated the crowds with his record serves and vicious forehand. He was America’s tennis player.
Now his time is up and there doesn’t seem to be anybody to take the baton from Roddick. The top four tennis players are well ahead of the competition and there are no Americans that even come close to competing at the level of Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, and Murray. Isner is the highest ranked American and his highest Grand Slam finish is a quarter finals appearance in last year’s US Open. Interest in the sport worldwide may fluctuate up and down depending on how players are received in their respective countries. Even though Roddick was not the highest ranked, he was the biggest American name and the most successful American on tour. His retirement leaves the American men’s tennis field looking for someone to step up to be the next one. The savior could not come soon enough.
Follow Kevin Rossi on Twitter @kevin_rossi.