Almost hidden away behind the Paralympics, the start of the football season and the infamous transfer deadline day, the tennis world is congregating in New York as the final Grand Slam takes place in Flushing Meadows.
It is less than a month since Andy Murray won Olympic gold in the singles tournament and silver in the mixed doubles with Laura Robson, and the world number four is once again in search of his maiden Grand Slam. Murray, seeded third after Rafael Nadal pulled out having failed to recover from the knee injury that also kept him out of the Olympics, cruised through his opening two matches in straight sets before overcoming 30th seed Feliciano Lopez in a shade under four hours in the searing afternoon heat. He will next face the big-serving promising youngster Milos Raonic, who defeated veteran James Blake.
Robson, meanwhile, reached the fourth round of a major tournament for the first time after playing the best tennis of her professional career, knocking out Kim Clijsters (23rd seed) in straight set tie-breaks and Li Na (9th) en route – the latter of whom had put out Heather Watson in the first round. It seems that her Olympic experience has finally transformed Robson into taking the next step, having promised so much in the junior levels. She was eventually put out by defending champion Sam Stosur – who needed eight match points to seal her quarter-final berth.
Clijsters announced entering the season that the 2012 season would be her last and her early exit in New York proved to be a major shock – she had not lost a game at the US Open since losing the 2003 final to Justine Henin. Granted, during that time she had an initial spell of retirement – which turned out to be a maternity break – but she won on each of the three occasions in which she entered (2005, 2009 and 2010), the most notable of which was 2009 when she had only recently returned to the sport and became the first mother to win a Slam in almost 30 years.
Clijsters’ presence on the WTA Tour will be missed. Always upbeat and friendly, she was a fans favourite throughout her career and is one of only a handful of women who have managed to be consistently at or near the top of women’s tennis (alongside the Williams Sisters, Henin and Maria Sharapova). Indeed, women’s tennis has suffered in recent years from having a revolving door of Grand Slam winners while the men’s game is flourishing with its ‘trivalry’ (Roger Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic) and then its fairly consistent top 10 ranked players (Murray, David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga etc). The likes of Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitová and rapidly rising star Angelique Kerber will need to step up and be more consistent to fill the void left by Clijsters.
However, it is the impending retirement of another player that has made the headlines this week. On his 30th birthday, Andy Roddick announced to the world that he would retire after the tournament, ending months of speculation about his future. It was not just the timing of this birthday announcement that was poignant, but the venue too. The US Open remains the only Grand Slam which Roddick has won. Indeed, when he won the tournament as a 23-year-old it was widely accepted that it would be the first of many and that he would take over where the likes of fellow Americans Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras left off, as he also secured the world number one ranking.
Unfortunately for “A-Rod”, the timing of his career has been identical to that of a certain Roger Federer, who himself won his maiden Slam tournament in 2003 at Wimbledon. Roddick reached a further four Grand Slam finals and lost all of them to Federer, three at Wimbledon and one at home, with the last of those appearances coming in the epic 2009 Wimbledon final which saw Roddick agonizingly lose a marathon final set 16-14 as Federer secured a record-breaking 15th Slam.
In his post-match interview, a broken Roddick simply joked how Federer could have at least let him hold the Wimbledon trophy just once. The American's record against Federer stands at an almost unbelievable three wins and 21 losses but make no mistake, he has been one of the most successful players over the last decade, finishing the year ranked inside the top 10 for nine consecutive years between 2002 and 2010 - a record only bettered by Federer amongst active players.
And so it came to be that Roddick would play under the lights for what was almost made to feel like the final time as all the media rolled out their montages of his career. Although still ranked inside the top 32, he would be facing one of the sport’s rising stars in Bernard Tomic – the youngest player in the top 50 – and many perhaps felt this would be the end.
But Roddick destroyed him. He rolled back the years and played some of his best ever tennis winning nine straight games to win 6-3, 6-4, 6-0. Complete with his unorthodox, yet powerful, serving style and dripping with sweat, Roddick had a spring in his step and smiled to the crowd as he postponed his retirement for at least one more match – a match which saw him defeat Fabio Fognini in four sets which means he now faces 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro.
Roddick’s ‘birthday decision’ was not a rash, spur-of-the-moment decision. It was one which he took knowing his body was no longer capable of dealing with the sustained pressure needed to compete at the highest level and he did not want to be like Lleyton Hewitt – still battling away to defy his age only to lose in the early rounds of Grand Slams. Complete with model girlfriend Brooklyn Decker, Roddick will no doubt have a long career ahead of him in whatever he chooses to do - after all he is an American star. Always one of the most popular players, his career is almost a tale of ‘what might have been’ but that would be harsh. He is one of the most successful players of his generation and that is how he should be remembered, along with his honest and affable personality.