Talking point: retirements
This week in our Talking Point series we focus on requirements following fan favourites Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick calling time on their careers.
Grand Slams, title counts and rankings are always a measure, but the assessment of a true champion can require more than a simple review of the numbers.
And so it is with Andy Roddick and Kim Clijsters, who each played their final matches at the US Open, leaving a mark that extends well beyond career statistics. While both players’ records favourably reflect all the usual measures, they don’t show the character they demonstrated in amassing them.
“Had I won a match or two more, we’d be looking at something a little different,” Roddick conceded. “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 I would do?
“I don’t know that I’d change much.”
That’s a sentiment with which the many fans of both champions would almost certainly agree. For all their obvious contrasts, Roddick and Clijsters also shared a striking commonality. Winning or losing, playing or not, neither player was ever afraid to show their human side. It was inevitable, then, that the endlessly engaging characters would also become two of the most adored players of their generation.
Boosting that popularity, of course, were the on-court highs. For Roddick that started with the first of 32 career titles at Atlanta in 2001, peaked with US Open victory and the world No.1 ranking in 2003 and in a demonstration of near unmatched consistency, included at least one career title in each of the past 11 years, the last of those victories occurring, in a neat book-end style, in Atlanta only weeks before last week’s retirement announcement.
Clijsters’ career, played over two parts, was more fractured but no less impressive. Progressing to her first Grand Slam final as an 18-year-old at the 2001 French Open, the Belgian would contest four major finals and become a world No.1 before finally achieving her Grand Slam breakthrough at the 2005 US Open.
“Maybe then I felt like I had achieved everything I wanted to achieve,” Clijsters says of that success, which was followed by her first retirement form tennis in 2007. But after marriage to Brian Lynch that year and the birth of daughter Jada early the next, Clijsters opted to give tennis one last try in 2009, eventually adding another three Grand Slams, including the Australian Open in 2011, to exit the game at age 29 with 41 career titles.
As with every player’s career, there were also the near misses and some of them were heartbreaking ones. Clijsters fought hard but surrendered that first French Open final to Jennifer Capriati with a 12-10 loss in the third set and admits to regretting her inability to play her best tennis in finishing runner-up to Justine Henin in the 2003 French Open final.
For Roddick, the what-might-have-been memories will be a further three Grand Slam finals, all of which he lost to Roger Federer. Most poignant was his loss at Wimbledon in 2009, the dramatic final spanning more than four hours and finishing with a 16-14 loss in the final set.
As difficult as such losses might have been, however, they also highlighted the depths of both players’ fighting spirit – and showcased some generous personal qualities too. Roddick believes he was blessed and not burdened to compete in the same era as the record-breaking Federer.
“I got to play. I got to play in a crowd, play in Wimbledon finals, be the guy on a Davis Cup team for a while,” he pointed out. “Those are opportunities not a lot of people get. As much as I was disappointed and frustrated at times, I’m not sure that I ever felt sorry for myself or begrudged anybody any of their success.”
Clijsters, as popular in the locker-room as she was with her many fans, was similarly positive about her competitive colleagues. “Obviously my goal in my career was obviously to be the best tennis player that I can be, but at the same time not be, you know, anti-social and not spend 15 years on tour, and when you step away from the sport not having any friends at the end of the day,” she said.
As much as we might have wished for them, there were no fairytale finishes in either player’s career. In an unplanned yet symbolic changing of the guard, Clijsters exited in the second round of the US Open to another likely star in Laura Robson. Roddick’s progress ended in the fourth round against Juan Martin del Potro.
There were tears, of course, but no regrets for both players now have more to offer in other ways. While Roddick turns his attention to further developing his charity foundation, Clijsters is considering various options. But tennis, it seems, will always be there.
“You know, I still love the innocent parts of the game. I love hitting tennis balls. I love seeing the young guys do well,” said Roddick.
Clijsters, ever a role model, will also remain an inspiration to many. “I’ll always try to give back to others what tennis has given me,” she promised. “I look forward to kind of that next chapter, as well, where I can help younger kids and girls who would like to be in our shoes and live this kind of lifestyle.”
Yet another reminder that while there was much to admire in both Roddick and Clijsters as players, it was the ability to continually give a little bit more that made them so adored as people.