By Randy Walker
Can one point make a Hall of Fame career?
What path would the tennis career of Andy Roddick been like had he lost one particular point back at the 2003 US Open?
In looking back at the career of Roddick, ended by Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina 6-7 (1), 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-4 Wednesday in the US Open fourth round, it is interesting to look back nine years ago today on Sept. 6, 2003, that one swing of the racket defined his career.
Roddick, then 21 years old, seeded No. 4 and playing in his first semifinal at a major tournament, faced a match point against him down two-sets-to-love and serving at 5-6 down in the third set tie-breaker to David Nalbandian, ironically the countryman and Davis Cup teammate of del Potro. Roddick rips a 138 mph service winner to wipe away Nalbandian’s one sniff at reaching the US Open final. Roddick then wins the third-set tie-breaker four points later and goes on to complete the two-sets-to-love comeback win 6-7 (4), 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-1, 6-3.
Roddick goes on to beat No. 3 seed Juan Carlos Ferrero in straight sets the following day to win what would become his only major singles final. But what if Roddick had missed that rocket first serve and, instead, spun in a second-serve and lost an extended baseline rally with Nalbandian to lose in straight-sets in the US Open semifinal?
For starters, he would not have reached the No. 1 ranking later in the fall and where he would end the season. He would be in the top 4, but his semifinal ranking points would not have vaulted him to No. 1. Roger Federer, the man who would go on to win 17 major singles titles and sit at the No. 1 ranking for nearly 300 weeks (and counting), would take firm hold of his dominance of men’s tennis early the next year when he won the 2004 Australian Open, his second major singles title.
Would Roddick had gained the confidence to vault him to a new level of play without winning that title at the 2003 US Open? Would he have been more motivated by a disappointing semifinal loss that he would have worked harder to achieve the heights that he did? Perhaps he would have drifted into a career like that of players like Nikolay Davydenko, David Ferrer – or Nalbandian himself – perpetually reaching the quarterfinals and semifinals at majors, and winning a nice collection of singles titles, but not winning majors or reaching the No. 1 ranking.
That one swing of the racket. That one serve. That one point. Without it, he doesn’t win the US Open and does not achieve the No. 1 ranking, two of his three best career accomplishments – to go with his 2007 Davis Cup victory – that highlight his resume for future consideration into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Without that serve, millions of dollars of endorsements do not follow immediately suit. He does not famously host the TV show “Saturday Night Live.” Perhaps he doesn’t meet and marry his now wife, actress and model Brooklyn Decker.
People always ponder what their lives would be like if one thing happened and not another. A movie called “Sliding Doors” starring Gwyneth Paltrow is based on this premise where the Paltrow character’s love life and career both hinge, unknown to her, on whether or not she catches a train and both scenarios are played out in the movie.
Speculation like this is a bit silly and a waste of energy, but one can’t help but ponder. Roddick did execute the shot that he needed to and won the match and won the US Open and became world No. 1 and had a Hall of Fame worthy career. It is similar to speculating what would have happened had Roddick connected on a high-backhand volley up 6-5 in the second-set tie-breaker against Federer in their epic 2009 Wimbledon final. Roddick would have been up two-sets-to-love on Federer and many have said that he would have gone on to beat Federer to win the title, but one will never know those circumstances or how both athletes would have reacted to the situation.
What we do know is that Andy Roddick is no longer an active professional tennis player. His name is etched on the US Open men’s singles trophy as the 2003 champion. His name is in the record books as the year-end world No. 1 in 2003 and his name is on the Davis Cup as a member of the championship U.S. team in 2007. It is safe to say, we will see his plaque one day in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.