By John Delong
Andy Roddick has been a part of the fabric of the Winston-Salem tennis scene throughout his career.
He first came to Winston-Salem as a junior to play in the Flow Motors Invitational. He returned three times to represent the United States in Davis Cup ties at Joel Coliseum. And then he was a star attraction at both of the first two Winston-Salem Opens.
So now that the former World No. 1 and 2003 US Open champion has announced his retirement, it’s time to send a great big "Thank you" his way.
Thanks for the great tennis he has played and the great memories he has produced. Thanks for the kind words he has always had for the city and its fans. Thanks for giving the inaugural Winston-Salem Open credibility with his presence, and for being one of the tournament’s greatest ambassadors with other players on the ATP World Tour.
Thanks for being Andy, with that refreshing personality and fiercely competitive spirit.
"We’re happy and sad at the same time," Winston-Salem Open tournament director Bill Oakes said. "We’re happy for Andy that he’s to the point in his life where he’s enjoying it and wanting to spend more time with his wife and his family and friends. We’re sad because we won’t get to see him compete anymore. And let’s face it, he’s an extreme competitor, that’s for sure."
Oakes was at the press conference at the US Open when Roddick announced that he would retire after the tournament. Even though Roddick had prompted speculation by blowing kisses to the crowd at Wimbledon in July, that speculation had died down. After all, Roddick got healthier as the summer progressed and had won summer tournaments at Eastbourne and Atlanta, the 31st and 32nd of his career.
Oakes said he was shocked at Roddick’s announcement, because negotiations were going on for Roddick to return to the Winston-Salem Open in 2013. Roddick had been the first official entrant for the 2012 tournament.
"I had been talking with Andy’s agent as recently as the day before his announcement on Andy returning to Winston-Salem," Oakes said. "We had begun negotiations in mid-July and had very positive discussions that Andy was going to come back. I was really surprised when he announced he was retiring."
For sure, Roddick’s presence at the Winston-Salem Open gave the tournament a huge boost.
He was the top seed in the inaugural 2011 tournament, and crowds flocked to his matches as he beat Edouard Roger-Vasselin, Santiago Giraldo and Juan Monaco in early rounds before losing to eventual champion John Isner in the semifinals.
Then for him to return the following year – and yes, to commit so early that the tournament could use him in promotional campaigns – sent a loud and clear endorsement of the event.
"He did not normally play the week before the Grand Slams," Oakes said. "So when he committed to come play in a tournament like this, where he had never played the week before the US Open, it automatically showed that he knew what we believed, which was the tournament was going to be a first-class event. It reinforced what we’re trying to work on here, which is to make it a good event."
Beyond that, Roddick truly was one of the tournament’s greatest ambassadors.
When he came to Media Day in early July, he made a profound statement about his love for Winston-Salem and the Winston-Salem Open. It was so very clear that the comment was genuine.
"This is a nice city," Roddick said. "People appreciate you more than any other place I’ve been. I’ve had people say ‘Thanks for coming to Winston.’ You don’t normally get thanked for coming to tennis tournaments. It’s what we do. So that stuck with me and that was a big part of me wanting to come back."
And he didn’t just say nice things at press conferences. Oakes saw first-hand how Roddick spread the word about the tournament to other players on the ATP World Tour.
"When I saw Andy in Miami during the Sony Ericsson last spring, he mentioned how much he was looking forward to coming back and was talking about how much fun he had," Oakes said. "I walked off and was writing an email on the phone, and I listened to him talk for 10 minutes to others about what a great experience he had in Winston-Salem. So I know he was one of our greatest ambassadors."
Roddick ends his career with a 9-2 record as a professional in Winston-Salem.
He beat Harsh Mankad and Leander Paes in his debut as the United States’ No. 1 player in a 2001 Davis Cup World Group Qualifier. He beat Fernando Verdasco in the United States’ victory over Spain in the 2007 Davis Cup quarterfinals. He beat Michael Llodra and Paul-Henri Mathieu in a Davis Cup quarterfinal victory over France in 2008, when the U.S. team returned to celebrate its 2007 Davis Cup title.
He then won three matches at the inaugural Winston-Salem Open, and beat James Blake in this year’s tournament before falling to Steve Darcis in the third round.
It turns out that the Winston-Salem Open was the last ATP World Tour event Roddick would play, and there has to be something fitting about the fact that his last ATP World Tour event victory came over Blake, his friend and teammate on all three Davis Cup teams that came to Joel Coliseum.
"I think the people of Winston-Salem had a special treat," Oakes said. "They got to see Andy as a junior playing in the Flow Motors Invitational, and then they got to see him play Davis Cup three times, and so they got to see his entire career unfold. I think that’s a really unique and special opportunity. And they got to experience what became his final ATP event of his career. That’s a pretty cool thing."