They say if you spend enough time in a place you become that place, yet in many ways Andy Roddick was already Arthur Ashe Stadium when he broke through on the men's tennis tour in 2001: young, much-heralded, stylistically grandiose, the way of the future. Like Ashe, the main show court at the U.S. Open where he's played more matches than any other player, a venue that's been called "the worst stadium in the country," Roddick was both obviously flawed and a victim of hyperbolic, unjust criticism.
It's not surprising Roddick needed to quit the sport to be appreciated, given how immediately the American sports populace took him for granted after he won the U.S. Open at 21 in '03 and finished that season ranked No. 1. Too often Roddick was knocked for what he wasn't instead of celebrated for what he was, even as he spent nearly a decade in the top 10, won 32 titles and emerged beyond argument as the best American of his generation. Maybe there's a lesson in the overdue appreciation that's flowed over the past six days, echoing a motif frequent in the 1980s power ballads of which Roddick is fond. Truly, you don't know what you got till it's gone.
Roddick's retirement -- now a matter of historical record after Wednesday's 6-7 (1), 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-4 loss to Juan Martin del Potro in the fourth round -- leaves the United States without an active men's Grand Slam champion for the first time in 129 years.