NEW YORK—Andy Roddick's career—the most successful of any American of his generation—came to an end in Arthur Ashe Stadium late this afternoon, as Argentina's Juan Martin Del Potro defeated him in the fourth round of the U.S. Open, 6-7 (1), 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-4.
The famously restless Roddick, the tournament's 2003 champion and former world No. 1, began the match Tuesday afternoon calmly employing a game plan that put a premium on short points: he served big (often in excess of 130 .M.P.H.), came to net repeatedly on slice approaches, and pulled the trigger on rally-ending groundstrokes as often as possible, even when the risk was high. The strategy paid dividends, earning him a break and a chance to serve out the first set at 5-3, although he tightened up at 30-0, handing the break back on a rash of unforced errors.
When the intermittent rain that plagued Tuesday here returned, Roddick had just held in the first point of the tiebreaker, and when play resumed today under sunny skies, he took the set with aggressive, forceful play, hitting a number of forehand winners, including a down-the-line one that gave him the breaker 7-1.
The second set was a high-quality affair, with no break points, offering every reason to believe that Roddick might extend his lead to two sets when the tiebreaker arrived. But something went suddenly awry: Whether it was emotions or something physical, we don't yet know. Whatever the reason, Roddick's consistency and confidence dipped at precisely the moment that del Potro lifted his game. Roddick double-faulted on his first service point of the breaker and failed to put a number of returns in play. On the last point, Del Potro buried a return in Roddick's deuce court that died on the American's racquet, ending the tiebreaker and evening the match at a set apiece.
Tennis is often compared to boxing, and that last return of the second-set tiebreaker was nothing short of an uppercut that left the 2003 U.S. Open champ reeling. It took a full set for Roddick to recover, as he dropped the third in the blink of an eye. His serves came in light, and his groundstrokes—even his normally reliable rally forehand—finding the net all too often, nevermind that del Potro was by this point connecting on his signature thunderous forehand as well as a surprising number of deft drop shots, as though he were trying to take Roddick out as humanely as possible.
Competitive to the end, Roddick mounted a valiant fourth-set effort, banging serves in excess of 130 M.P.H. again and holding to 2-all. But his strengths failed him once more: A double-fault produced a break chance for del Potro, which he converted on, of all things, a Roddick forehand error. It came, ironically, after several strong backhands. Serving at 4-5, Roddick fought off a match point with one last big serve that drew a long return and pocketed the game on a volley winner.
But despite an American fan base that suddenly came to full-throated life in the final games, del Potro—by this point in a full and fluid flow—served out the match at love, the final point ending on a Roddick forehand that sailed long.
Gracious in victory, del Potro ceded his on-court interview time to Roddick, who thanked the New York fans for their long and loyal support before disappearing off the court, waving goodbye one last time.