Perhaps it's most surprising that his whole upper body never gave out. For more than a full decade, he carried American men's tennis. He may not have been in the winners' circle as often as he would have liked. But he was "in the conversation," as he put it, one of the countless bon mots he offered over the last dozen or so years.
That conversation, though, will now soon be over. In something of a surprise announcement -- one that quickly changed the narrative of the 2012 U.S. Open -- Roddick took a seat in the interview room on Thursday and declared that this would be his final event. When he loses his next match -- and he plays Bernard Tomic in the second round on Friday -- it will be curtains on an exceptional and honorable tennis career. Ranked No. 22, having won two titles this year and even having recently beaten Roger Federer on hard courts, Roddick is still a credible player.
But maybe the time was as good as any. Today is his 30th birthday. He hasn't been beyond the quarters of a major since 2009. And why not walk away at your home Slam, the event where you first made your mark as a player?
It was nine years ago that Roddick broke through and won the biggest title of his career, the 2003 U.S. Open. After the remarkable Sampras/Agassi/Courier trio, Roddick was rightfully anointed as the next great American. Apart from coming heavily armed with the requisite power baseline game, he had a clever and outgoing personality that made him a distinctive presence. Shortly after winning that title, he returned to New York to host Saturday Night Live. He finished the year ranked No. 1.
Then timing conspired against him. First Federer came of age, morphing from a talented head case into a peerless champion. Then Rafael Nadal emerged. After him, Novak Djokovic. And suddenly, by accident of timing, Roddick was done winning majors. But he wasn't done authoring his story. And in many ways, his tennis during the Federer-Nadal era defined him as much as his tennis before it. For nine consecutive years, he finished in the top 10. There was valor in his fight, his refusal to concede defeat to players who were, on most days, simply better. And never more than during the 2009 Wimbledon final. For an afternoon, Roddick went shot for titanic shot against Federer. And while he lost 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14, it will go down as one of the sport's great battles.
The casual fan may regard Roddick an underachiever, a guy who won a major a few days after he could drink his first beer, and then never summited the mountain again. Nothing could be further from the truth. Roddick took a fairly limited game, a suspect backhand, and not much in the way of touch and authored a Hall of Fame career. He took a monster forehand and lively serve, self-belief and fighting instincts, and alchemized it into almost three dozen trophies and more than $20 million in prize money. Even as he started losing, first to the Big Three and then to time, he hired a full staff of the best minds in the sport -- expense be damned -- to help him maximize his career. Players talk about leaving nothing on the court. Roddick's court is bare.
Apart from his tennis, Roddick will be recalled for his quick smarts and his penchant for debate that -- well, what do we call it? -- wavered between wit and smart-ass. One day someone will write a book simply compiling his classic quotes, many of them offered in the course of interviews. He was even witty on the subject of his retirement.
Yet, it was often what Roddick didn't say that will endure. Though he seldom mentioned it, he has the most legitimate athlete charitable foundation this side of Andre Agassi. There were countless random acts of kindness that never made it into the public domain. He did things like this and it didn't ask for recognition.
Roddick is bright. He is curious. He is interested and interesting. He already hosts a national radio show. He can walk into a commentary booth tomorrow and put someone out of work. He'll do fine in Career 2.0. And yet the sport will be immeasurably worse off in his absence.