There was no dramatic comeback, no storybook ending. There was just an inexplicable amount of sweat pouring from a white hat, a bawling babe and a standing ovation.

The professional tennis career of Andy Roddick ended the way it should have Wednesday at the U.S. Open.

That’s not a dig – there were times, including this tournament, where I rooted like hell for Roddick. He had that effect on people, bursting into the international stage at 17, good looking, and originally from the Midwest. Omaha. It was easy to pretend that he grew up just like me – very middle class and battling snow for court time. He wasn’t some cake-eater, country-club kid from a sunshine state. At least, that’s what I insisted on pretending, even though he indeed moved to Florida at age 11 and attended a prep school.  

He was also impossibly cool – the guy dated Mandy Moore and is married to Brooklyn Decker, for crying out loud – and had legit game. Roddick rose to No. 1 in the world in 2003, shortly after winning the U.S. Open. He was 21 at the time. Twenty-flippin’-one. Got to respect that.

Andy Roddick helped tennis stay in the pop-culture picture by looking cool and dating some pretty ladies.

But rather than being the first of many majors, that wound up as his only one. Still, I’m not sure he underachieved. Yes, Roddick was arguably too temperamental. He never had the natural calm of a Pete Sampras and didn’t mature emotionally the way that Andre Agassi did in the second half of his career. He was sharp-tongued, volatile. That’s what made him simultaneously fun to watch and maddening both on the court and in the press room, where he could come off – like broadcaster Chris Fowler said – as a bully.

Roddick was American men’s tennis in the post Agassi-Sampras era and remains the only Yankee to win a Slam since 2003. And I’m not sure he failed so much as others in the game just surpassed him. Roddick was a grinder and the serve was his best stroke. He never made tennis look easy the way that Roger Federer continues to do, wasn’t as as athletic as Rafa Nadal, couldn’t cover ground like Novak Djokovic. He had to work for everything, and his best – although the best in the world for a time – wasn’t as good for as long as some of his contemporaries, an exceptional and maybe historic group. He didn’t have their talent.

Nonetheless, he achieved enough and fulfilled his role. I played tennis in high school (and attempted to in college) yet I might have given up on watching the game if not for Roddick. He bridged the gap from Agassi and Sampras to Federer/Nadal/Djokovic (and maybe Andy Murray – we’ll know more about him in a few days). He was fiery and mouthy and a celebrity and could hit a serve at 140 mph. That’s the kind of anti-tennis tennis that may be necessary for the game to stay relevant.

Frankly, I took him for granted – or flat overlooked him – for the last three years, since his last appearance in a Slam final, assuming he’d be around forever, keeping this country at least semi-relevant on the world scene. But I was all in again once he announced his retirement. I got goosebumps more than once during his final match, a four-set loss to Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro (that’s John Martin of the Potro in English). I believed into the last game of his 13-year career that he might hustle his way through one more round, whip New York into a frenzy one last time.

It didn’t happen. Roddick was Roddick to the very end. And that should be enough.

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