He was the golden boy of American tennis when he burst onto the scene around the turn of the century. He came along right around the time the careers of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras were reaching their twilight years. And it seemed he would assume his rightful place as the heir of American tennis hopes. For a little while.
I'm speaking, of course, of Andy Roddick. The Nebraska kid with the rocket serve and a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model for a wife.
I'll be honest: I was never Roddick's biggest fan. Mostly because I tend to root for the old guys to hang on for as long as they can. Same reason I was never a huge Pete Sampras fan. After Sampras ended John McEnroe's magical run at age 41 in the semis of the '90 U.S. Open, I've kinda held a grudge... for these past twenty years.
I was an Agassi fan, and wept openly after his farewell match. But you had to respect Sampras' game. He played the serve and volley as well as anyone since, well, no one.
When Roddick won the '03 Open at the age of 21, then became the first American man since Agassi to end the year as the ATP's #1 ranked player, I figured his inevitable ascension to and reign at the top was upon us.
But that was eight years ago. And it's still Roddick's only Grand Slam title. And even that, if you're nitpicking, wasn't the most difficult road to a Grand Slam title in tennis history. Roddick beat David Nalbandian in the semis and Juan Carlos Ferrero in the finals of the '03 Open. Not exactly Federer and Nadal. In fact, Roddick's title came right around the same time that Federer was about to take over the tennis world -- Fed won his first Grand Slam that same year, at Wimbledon.
Since then, Federer and Nadal -- not Roddick -- have established themselves as this generation's Agassi and Sampras. So who's to blame? Them? Or him?
It's impossible to say for sure, but I'm willing to give Roddick the benefit of the doubt. He has made four other Grand Slam Finals, losing three of them to Federer. Maybe Roddick just came along at the wrong time? Or maybe he was never quite that good? Top ten talent, but not top three?
Whatever it is, all I'm saying is can we please stop hyping the guy. Roddick has won as many Grand Slams in the last seven years as I have. He's only made one Grand Slam final since 2006. And hasn't even made it to the quarterfinals in five of the past six majors. He's no longer the highest-ranked American. That honor now goes to Mardy Fish. Heck, he's not even the highest ranked guy named Andy anymore.
For a long time, I rooted against Andy Roddick. It was kinda like rooting against the Cubs. They're supposed to lose. Anything else and the Earth might begin to wobble and spin out of its orbit. But something happened on the way to Flushing Meadows. And lately I've come to take a more sympathetic view. Of Roddick. Not the Cubs.
I mean, God knows I know a thing or two about unfulfilled potential. What is potential anyway? If what is thought to be potential is never realized, was it ever really possible in the first place? Perhaps Andy and I aren't all that different after all. Save for the swimsuit wife, 150 mph serve, and the $19 million in career earnings.
Roddick plays his third round match today at Wimbledon -- site of 3 of his 5 career Grand Slam Finals appearances. For an Agassi or Sampras, Federer or Nadal, a third round exit would be a huge upset. But if Roddick loses today, will anybody really be surprised?
Unless perhaps you have Andy Roddick posters plastered all over your bedroom wall, the answer is no.
Will it have been a choke job?
The answer to that is a bit more nebulous.
"This is a list of what I should have been, but I'm not. This is a list of the things that I should have seen, but I'm not seeing..."