At the 2012 U.S. Open, two storied careers came to a close, as both American Andy Roddick and Belgium’s Kim Clijsters took to the court for the final time in their careers.
Roddick's career came to a close at the 2012 U.S. Open, when he was beaten 6-7, 7-6, 6-2, 6-4 by Juan Martin del Potro in the fourth round. Roddick's last shot of his career was a running forehand that went long. After the match, he was handed a microphone and emotionally addressed the Flushing Meadows crowd: "For the first time in my career, I'm not sure what to say. Since I was a kid, I've been coming to this tournament and I felt lucky just to sit where all of you are and watch this game and see the champions that have come and gone. And I've loved every minute of it."
Roddick ended a career which saw him win the 2003 U.S. Open and briefly reach the top of the ATP Tour World Rankings. He also made a second U.S. Open final and three Wimbledon finals, but lost them all to Switzerland’s Roger Federer.
“I'm thankful for everything he's done for the game, especially here for tennis in America,” said Roger Federer. “It has not been easy after Agassi and Sampras, Courier, Chang, Connors, McEnroe, you name it … It's been hard for him as well at times. I thought he always did the best he could; that's all you can ask from a guy.”
With his wife and parents watching from the stands, Roddick struggled to keep his emotions in check as the realization that his career was over began to sink in. Del Potro and Roddick hugged at the net after the match, and del Potro allowed Roddick to have his final moment with the New York crowd. Roddick wiped away the tears as the crowd stood to applaud him.
“It was really high intensity during all the match, and Andy played really well,” said del Potro. “But also he retired in fantastic shape. It's amazing.”
Clijsters was upset 7-6(4), 7-6(5) by 18-year-old Laura Robson of Great Britain in the second round of the U.S. Open and headed into retirement after she finished playing doubles at Flushing Meadows. She walked away from the sport once before, in May 2007, then returned after a hiatus of two-plus years. Now 29-years-old, the Belgian insisted this season that she means it this time, and decided the U.S. Open—and its hard courts that she conquered on the way to three championships—would be her final tournament.
"I'm happy that in the last year and a half or even two years, it's been kind of up and down, and I'm happy that I stuck through it and I was able to kind of live a lot of these emotions that I've had in these 18 months or so," said Clijsters. "Kind of in a way proud of myself that I was able to do that. I feel happy. I have doubles tomorrow, so I have to stay focused."
The loss to Robson ended Clijsters' 22-match winning streak in New York, encompassing titles in 2005, 2009 and 2010, plus a first-round win at this year’s Open.
“Kim always displayed grace and character on and off the court," said USTA Chairman of the Board Jon Vegosen. "So it’s appropriate that Arthur Ashe Stadium brought out her best, because she embodies so many of Arthur’s qualities. We will miss this great champion, and wish Kim and her family all the best.”
Clijsters and mixed-doubles partner Bob Bryan fell 6-2, 3-6, 12-10 to Eketerina Makarova & Bruno Soares, officially ending her professional playing career. The match went back and forth, but ended as Clijsters’ final shot as a pro hit the net. Even in defeat, Clijsters put on a show for the packed crowd on Court 17 and smiled through it all. Husband Brian Lynch was watching from the stands with the couple’s four-year-old daughter, Jada, in his lap playing with a stuffed animal.
"'I had a great night,'' Clijsters said. ''And I couldn't have asked for a better way to finish here.''
Clijsters finished her career with a 523-127 career record, notching 41 singles titles and 11 doubles titles along the way.
The Belgian has been a well-respected figure on the WTA Tour throughout her career. She defeated Caroline Wozniacki twice in the U.S. Open final—in 2009 and 2010—and rose above Li Na in last year's Australian Open.
"Just kind of being home, I guess, being home and kind of having that routine for my family, you know, for our daughter," said Clijsters on her post-tennis life. "I'm sure in two months I'm going to be like, 'Ah...' But I told my husband, 'Look, I've been traveling since I'm 11 years old. Every so often I need to go stay in a hotel where I can just go and line up for breakfast and don't have to set up and clean the table, make up the beds every day, all that. I enjoy that. I enjoy it a lot when I come back from a long trip. I want to do it. I look forward to that next chapter, as well, where I can help younger kids and girls who would like to be in our shoes."
Highlights of Andy Roddick’s retirement press conference …
Roddick: I just feel like it's time. I don't know that I'm healthy enough or committed enough to go another year. I've always wanted to, in a perfect world, finish at this event [U.S. Open]. I have a lot of family and friends here. I've thought all year that I would know when I got to this tournament. When I was playing my first round, I knew.
Is there any way to quantify how much the health issue is versus the mental and emotional issue?
Roddick: It's tough to say. It's kind of like the chicken or the egg. How much of mental fatigue is because you don't feel like you can do what you want to do physically? You don't know where it starts. But it's tough to put a number.
What projects would you like to do now that the tennis career has come to an end?
Roddick: We announced that we are building, with my foundation, a youth tennis and learning center in Austin, Texas. I'd like to be hands-on with that and not see it periodically. I'd like to be kind of on-site every day. There are some other projects, kind of side projects, that I've been doing. Those excite me a lot right now. So I'm looking forward to it.
What do you think you'll miss the most?
Roddick: I'm not sure. I am lucky enough that there are a lot of players where I live. I don't think I'm one of the guys who won't pick up a racquet for three years. I still love the innocent parts of the game … I love hitting tennis balls. I love seeing the young guys do well. I'll still have a lot of friends to watch. I'll miss the relationships probably the most. As time passes, I'll probably miss the tennis more, but immediately, that's probably the thing that is toughest for me.
Like any other top American athlete, you're praised and you're criticized. What are you most proud of in your career? If you could point to one or two things that you might have changed, what would that be?
Roddick: I don't know that I would change much. Obviously, I think everybody would want to win a match or two more. Had I won a match or two more, we'd be looking back at something a little bit different. But that's also shaped kind of who I am and how I've been able to learn. If everything would have been easy the whole way, who knows how you'd view things. I'm pretty content with the way I did.
What does it mean to you to be the face of American tennis for the last eight years?
Roddick: It's been a pleasure. It's not something that's easy every day, for sure, especially when you get kind of anointed at a young age, 17, 18. It's something you roll with. For the moments where it's been hard, I've had 25 positive things that have come from it. Again, anything that people may view as tough, I've been very lucky and very fortunate. I've gotten a lot of opportunities. I wouldn't trade away a day of it. I've loved every minute.
There are plenty of athletes that make this kind of announcement in a flood of tears. You seem quite clear about it.
Roddick: I feel clear. If I'm being honest, I would have bet against myself on getting through this without tears today. I must have already gotten them all out earlier. I feel pretty good today. This has been a huge part of my life always. But, I don't know that it's always been my entire life. So I do feel very confident in the things and the people that I have to fall back on.
Do you think it's going to be an adjustment to be at home?
Roddick: You know, I don't think I'm foolish enough to think that it's all going to be easy for me. I don't know that I would be that presumptuous. I love my home life, my friends, my wife. It will be an adjustment, but hopefully if I ever want to come say hi to you all, they'll give me a credential
Highlights of Kim Clijsters’ retirement press conference …
Were the emotions any different with your final singles match or doubles match?
Clijsters: Of course. It was a lot more relaxed obviously than my singles. In my singles, I was still so focused. Even afterwards, I knew that my singles career was over, but I was really focused on trying to do well in doubles and mixed. There was no partying yet or anything. I kind of stayed in my same routine as usual. Now when I was in the shower … it really felt like a big release.
We saw Jada in the crowd. Was she aware that you were going to be retiring soon?
Clijsters: I've been telling her I'm going to be home a lot when this tournament is completely done. I don't think she understands the meaning of the word “retirement.” But she will realize that we're probably not going to be traveling as much as these last few years.
How do you want to be remembered as a tennis player?
Clijsters: I don't think about that. I mean, that's not important to me. You know, I always tried to give my best, even from when I was eight-years-old until my last match, I always tried to give my best in everything that I did, whether it was sitting here, on the practice court. That is something I would like to be remembered for.
What was your main emotion? Are you relieved? Exhausted? Upset?
Clijsters: No, not exhausted at all. Not upset. Happy … I don't know. It feels right. I cannot describe it in any other way. It's surprising that I've kept it dry, I haven't been crying. I think that's just another sign that it's the right choice.