The last American to win a Grand Slam event and be ranked No. 1 in the tennis world — someone not named Williams, at least — said he never doubted for a moment that he would miss the game when he stepped away.
Andy Roddick has no regrets. Even watching Wimbledon the last few weeks, where Andy Murray finally claimed that elusive crown Roddick never could quite grasp, he never second-guessed himself. And while some may say he underachieved by winning just one major — the 2003 U.S. Open — Roddick prefers looking at the big picture.
Playing for the Springfield (Miss.) Lasers in World TeamTennis prior to Thursday night's match with Billie Jean King's Philadelphia Freedoms at Villanova, Roddick dissected his career.
"Looking back, if you tell someone they'll win a Slam, Davis Cup, a bunch of other titles (32 to be exact) and be ranked No. 1, if anyone says that's disappointing, that's a pretty big compliment to what they think your potential was," said Roddick, who played singles and doubles in the Lasers' 23-20 win. "I'm satisfied when I went to sleep at night. I felt I got the most out of the day.
"My proudest thing is the work I put into it. I think I was always fighting an uphill battle as far as talent goes against someone like Rafa [Nadal] or Roger [Federer]. I worked to slim those margins as much as I could."
Eventually, the 30-year-old Roddick began to realize the margins were widening. Instead of hanging on for a few more years collecting paychecks like some do, he chose to leave on his own terms.
"I realized why I was stopping," said Roddick, who occasionally displayed his blistering serve and lethal ground strokes Thursday night. "One of the things I'm happiest about is I enjoyed every day of it. It never felt like work to me. But I never expected to leave the game and not miss it. I never expected not to have emotions going on while watching Wimbledon. It was probably the first time I turned on an event and had that feeling in my stomach that you're not there. It was weird."
But Roddick quickly adapted, following the storyline of all those early upsets before ultimately cheering when Murray prevailed. Roddick, who lost three times to Federer in the finals, including an epic 16-14 fifth set after he'd knocked off Murray in the semifinals, was thrilled the way it played out.
"For me, it was awesome to see a region of the world back their guy," said Roddick, as Murray ended Britain's 77-year drought. "Andy worked really hard. Talk about the pressure placed on someone by a country. He had it more than anybody. When I beat him in 2009, I felt like the guy who shot Bambi."
But no tougher than what the current crop of Americans face having to follow Roddick, none of whom made it past the second round at Wimbledon.
"I think it's an adjustment period for the guys who have to deal with the questions and the pressures," said Roddick, regarding John Isner, Sam Querrey, Mardy Fish, Ryan Harrison and the rest. "They're gonna have to learn to have an edge and I think they'll deal with it."
Meanwhile, Roddick will be just fine playing team tennis here and there, doing work with his foundation and a few other endeavors. But come September, when the U.S. Open gets underway, he has no doubt those pangs of missing something special will return.
"I'm sure it will," he smiled. "I don't know to what extent. I played my first Open when I was 16 years old, so that's a lot of years in one place. But I think I normally have a pretty good perspective on things."
So do those who saw him play all those years, enough to know that Roddick was one of the best. Whoever comes next on the American tennis scene should know this: He has a tough act to follow.