ROD OF APPLAUSE: Andy Roddick was deserving of the standing ovation he received upon losing his match to Juan Martin del Potro. Photo courtesy Chris Trotman/Getty Images

“For the first time in my career, I’m not sure what to say.”

If you know Andy Roddick, you know just how powerful that statement was as he held the microphone and stood on the court just seconds after playing his last tennis match. The man who once said, “if nothing else, I’m a decent quote”, positioned, defeated, and consumed with emotion, had nothing left to give the tennis fans who adore him so much.

But when you’ve had a career like Roddick’s, you don’t need to give anyone anything.

The fact of the matter is one of the tennis greats has just ended his career. While the sport has been absolutely dominated by Rafael Nadal, Rodger Federer, and Novak Djokovic for the better part of a decade, Roddick has always been almost equally in the limelight. He was charismatic, entertaining, and, aside from the three I just mentioned, one of the best in the game.

BEHIND EVERY GREAT MAN: Actress and wife Brooklyn Decker was overcome with emotion as Roddick bid the crowd farewell one last time. Photo courtesy Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

If you could quantify Roddick’s importance to the sport of tennis, that number would be exponentially larger when measuring his influence on AMERICAN tennis. The last American man to win a Grand Slam and arguably the greatest American male tennis player since Andre Agassi, Roddick is as great or greater than Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic when being compared stateside. If, for no other reason, because he’s one of our own.

To have tasted the pinnacle of success nine years ago and never reach that high-water mark in your career ever again could leave any athlete bitter and selfish as his body aged and his career wounded down. But, as if he owed us something, as if he was employed by the sports world and expected to perform, Andy always put on a show.

Without Roddick, we may have never evolved beyond measuring a tennis player’s success by the number of Grand Slams on his or her shelf.

That’s because Andy never quit. With enough heartbreaking losses to fill a Hallmark Movie marathon a thousand times over, he just refused to quit. And it’s that resiliency, that inane ability to come into tournament after tournament with the odds so heavily stacked against you and still give it your all.

Even in his last match, when he faced Juan Martin Del Potro’s first match point, nobody would’ve blamed him for allowing that game to be the last of his career. As if it were a microcosm of the match itself, Roddick had jumped out to an early lead, but Del Potro had caught him and pulled to within an inch of ending the whole thing. Then Andy dug down and evened game. As the crowd cheered, he did so again to gain advantage. And, when he won a third point in a row to take the game, you couldn’t help but to realize that Andy Roddick hadn’t given up on himself even when we had.

In that moment, I couldn’t help but to feel an immense sense of guilt. Because, as the great Billie Jean King said about him, while there have been other tennis greats, none of them have been a better team player than Roddick. At times, it was just surreal to see. A sport, where for the most part you compete individually and you never compete with more than one other partner, Roddick was so driven to make those around him better.

And that included us fans.

That’s where my guilt came in. Because I know there had to be times when Roddick was ready to give up on us. Tennis fans are a finicky bunch. The tides of loyalty amongst them, all too often, seem to change faster than the weather at Wimbledon. One minute the crowd is your friend, and the next it’s booing and heckling you.

And, through it all, a decade that lasted well over ten years, Roddick never discounted their faith in him. Even as he stood giving his final post-match interview, the fans of the sport were one of the first groups of people he thanked.

That, in a nutshell, IS what Andy Roddick — during the competitive portion of his career, anyway — brought to the game. He simply gave, and gave relentlessly. He didn’t care how many trophies were on his own mantle, he cared about the sport and all that it encompassed.

Which is why it was so touching in the press room when, as Roddick sat down and fielded the first questions, one reporter encouraged his peers to break journalism etiquette and give a round of applause to a man that had, as I’ve already said, given so much to him over the years. Because, as the reporter told Andy:

“You deserve it.”

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