As Andy Roddick fell behind Juan Martin del Potro Wednesday in what would turn out to be the final match of his career, the 30-year-old American admits all his previous tennis milestones began drifting through his mind.
He thought about his mom driving him to practice when he was little. He thought about matches he played when he was 12. And he thought about all the memorable moments he experienced during a bumpy yet brilliant career.
The emotion of the match finally overcame Roddick after he sprayed a forehand wide on match point to send del Potro into the quarterfinals with a 6-7 (1), 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-4 win. A red-eyed Roddick buried his face in a towel as del Potro saluted him, then choked back tears once again as he addressed the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium one final time.
"For the first time in my career, I'm not sure what to say," Roddick said. "Since I was a kid, I've been coming to this tournament. I felt lucky just to sit where all of you are sitting today, to watch this game and to see the champions who have come and gone and I've loved every minute of it.
"It has been a road with a lot of ups, a lot of downs and a lot of great moments. I've appreciated your support along the way. I know I certainly haven't made it easy for you at times, but I really do appreciate it and love you guys with all my heart."
Roddick's four-set loss to del Potro on Wednesday evening concluded a career that at times has been hard to define. He never became the dominant player many predicted he'd become, yet he displayed longevity, resolve and charisma in winning one grand slam and reaching the finals of four others.
He emerged as the new face of American tennis post-Sampras and Agassi by beating back opponents with his booming serve. He briefly thrived in the role of Roger Federer's primary foil until other rivals eclipsed him. And he remained a fixture in the top 10 for a decade until injuries and age diminished his power and forced him to rely on other facets of his game.
It would have been a great story had Roddick been able to make a deep U.S. Open run at his final tournament, but it was probably too much to ask from a guy days away from retirement mostly because he could not compete at that level anymore.
Roddick won the first set and forced a tiebreaker in the second, but del Potro's powerful groundstrokes and consistent serves were too much later in the match. Del Potro won 10 of the first 11 points on Roddick's serve in the third set, survived a couple of break points in his first service game of the fourth set and coasted to victory from there.
When Roddick announced his imminent retirement last Thursday, part of his reasoning was so that fans wouldn't think he was a lunatic if he teared up during his final match.
Thankfully for Roddick, his tears received cheers. In fact, many in the crowd were so sad to see him go that they cried along with him.