FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. – A five-o’clock shadow slowly eclipsed the court on Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday as Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina slowly closed the curtain on Andy Roddick’s 12-year professional tennis career.
By 6 p.m. Eastern, Roddick’s final forehand sailed long, and the two-time Olympian said goodbye, 6-7 (1), 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-4, in the round of 16.
But the 30-year-old Texan hadn’t written a valedictory speech. After the match, Roddick was handed the on-court microphone and said, “For the first time in my career, I don’t know what to say.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve been coming to this tournament. I felt lucky to have sat where you’ve been sitting, watching this game, and seeing champions come and gone. I’ve loved every minute of it.”
As his voice began to break, the crowd embraced him with a loud ovation.
After 612 career wins and two Olympics (in 2004 and 2012), Roddick remains the last American man to win the US Open singles title, in 2003.
“It was a tough moment for me, and for him also – last point of his life,” said Del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion, after dispatching the American favorite. “I was nervous but he made some misses and it was easier for me.”
In their four previous meetings, Del Potro had prevailed three times, but it looked like Roddick was ready to reverse the trend when the match began on Tuesday night.
Roddick had a 1-0 lead in the first-set tiebreak when play was suspended for rain.
When play resumed on Wednesday afternoon, Roddick polished off the tiebreaker easily, 7-1, to take the first set. Del Potro evened up the match by winning the second set, 7-6, after another tiebreak (7-4). The Argentine went on to win the third set decisively, 6-2.
Down 5-3 in the fourth set, Roddick saved match point on his own serve when Del Potro’s shot went long to tie the score at deuce. With sweat streaming off the brim of his white baseball cap, Roddick won the next two points to hold serve and extend his tennis life by what turned out to be five more minutes.
Roddick’s wife Brooklyn Decker knitted her hands nervously, sensing that the end was near.
In a separate box, Roddick’s parents looked glum and alone after British tennis fan and royal in-law Pippa Middleton vacated her seat next to Roddick’s mother.
Leading 5-4, Del Potro served for the match. Roddick lost the first point when his shot went long. Roddick’s next shot went wide. Next, Del Potro made it 40-0 with a shrewd forehand passing shot. On triple match point, Roddick’s long forehand sent Del Potro to a quarterfinal meeting with Novak Djokovic on Thursday.
Still, Roddick said it had been a “fun” week since his press conference six days earlier in which he announced that the US Open would be his last tournament.
On Wednesday, he insisted that his retirement wasn’t planned much before that.
“I didn’t know before the tournament that that was that,” he said. “I knew in the middle of my match in the first round. Then I gave myself a day not to be, you know, reactionary.
“I woke up and Brook [his wife] was out running an errand and I had an hour-and-a-half to myself. I was just walking back and forth. Then I started texting frantically and telling her I needed to chat.
“Saying it out loud was the hardest part for me.
“Then I started calling people so they wouldn’t hear from you [reporters] first.”
Roddick’s announcement came on August 30, his 30th birthday.
And when he played the last game of his final match on Wednesday, Roddick was asked what it was like to serve with tears in his eyes.
“It was emotional, but not emotional like we normally have it. Normally, [sadness is] a very selfish emotion. If we do badly, then it costs us something; if we do well we get great things. This was about something bigger. It wasn’t about ranking points or paychecks.
“This week I felt like I was 12 years old. It was extremely innocent. I enjoyed it.”
One thing Roddick clearly hadn’t lost was his sense of humor. As usual, he had the press corps laughing on several occasions during his final press conference.
Asked whether he plans to celebrate his retirement, he said, “I mean, I’m probably not going to be opposed to a beer – or ten. We’ll see how that goes.”
Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.