As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the US Open, we look back at the 50 champions who have left an indelible mark on this inimitable event.
The 2003 US Open began with the official retirement of Pete Sampras, a five-time US Open champion and arguably the greatest American in men’s tennis history. And while his retirement hardly came as a shock – he had not played since beating Andre Agassi in the Flushing finale a year before – it still somehow left a hole in the sport and in the tournament.
Enter Andy Roddick. The successor to Sampras as the next great American man flexed his muscles – and his serve and forehand – over the ensuing two weeks, keeping the US Open men’s trophy on U.S. soil and relieving any stress among the hometown faithful that Sampras’ retirement would indeed leave an irreplaceable void.
Roddick was, quite simply, a revelation. A junior standout, he quickly vaulted to the top of the professional ranks behind a serve that still ranks among the most powerful in the game’s history, and he backed it up with a thunder stroke of a forehand. It was a combination that would be imitated by many who followed – serve-and-forehand replacing serve-and-volley in this epoch’s power baseline game – and proved an enduring recipe for success throughout the native Nebraskan’s 13-year career.
And a Hall of Fame career at that, one that saw Roddick finish at No. 1 in the world (in 2003), reach five Grand Slam singles finals, win 32 ATP titles and rank in the Top 10 each year from 2002 to 2010. For good measure, he led the U.S. to the 2007 Davis Cup championship and finished his career behind only John McEnroe for most singles victories in U.S. Davis Cup history.
Yet no image endures more than the recently turned 21-year-old after claiming the 2003 US Open title: holding his head in his hands, tears welling in his eyes, as he stared in disbelief toward his player’s box. It was a title as well-earned as it seemed, just a day before, wholly unlikely.
Coming off quarterfinal finishes in 2001 and 2002 – where he lost, coincidentally, to Sampras – Roddick was a prime contender for the 2003 Open crown. And he played like it in the early going. As top seeds fell around him, the world No. 4 advanced to the semifinals with the acquiescence of only a single set – in a tiebreak in the second round to Ivan Ljubicic.
But he was down and nearly out in the final four, trailing by two sets and a match point to the dangerous Argentine David Nalbandian. Roddick staved off the match point with a service winner and clawed his way out of the third set, winning it in a tiebreak, 9-7. From there, he dominated the final two frames, carrying that momentum into a final that was never in doubt. Roddick overpowered Juan Carlos Ferrero, who had defeated Andre Agassi in the semifinals to deny an all-American final, in the title match to capture the crown, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3.
Surprisingly, given his precocious game and early success, Roddick never again held a major trophy aloft, turned away by longtime rival Roger Federer in each of his five other trips to a Grand Slam final. But he remains one of the US Open’s all-time great competitors, a two-time finalist and eight-time quarterfinalist, a fan favorite and a hometown hero. In the end, he may not have equaled Sampras, but he proudly carried the mantle as the top U.S. man for more than a decade – an achievement all its own and another fitting accomplishment for this 2003 US Open champion.
50 Fact: Roddick’s title marked the end of an impressive decade-plus for American men at the US Open, with Sampras, Agassi and Roddick winning seven championships in 11 years. No American man has won a Grand Slam singles title since.