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Original Issue

Falling Star

Andy Roddick's losing Davis Cup effort is only the latest disappointment in a tough year

With a racket bag slung over his shoulder and a bouquet of Babolats in his arms, Andy Roddick charged out of the tunnel at Austin's Erwin Center on Sunday to cheers from a partisan crowd of nearly 16,000. But almost as soon as he reached his sideline chair, Roddick was gone. In the aftermath of David Ferrer's four-set victory over Mardy Fish, which gave Spain an insurmountable 3--1 lead over the U.S. in the Davis Cup quarterfinals, it was announced that Roddick and Feliciano López would not play their final singles match. The decision wasn't Roddick's—in Davis Cup a meaningless final match, or dead rubber, is not played unless both captains agree to it—and the crowd had already been treated to more than four hours of intensely competitive tennis. Still, the fans who had rained adulation on Roddick now delivered a hailstorm of boos.

It was another in a string of empty moments for Roddick this season. "He's tired and disappointed," U.S. captain Jim Courier said of his star player. The Davis Cup had promised Roddick a chance—a tie in his hometown (Austin), on his best surface (hard court), with no Rafael Nadal (who opted out of the tie at the last minute, to rest)—to gain some positive momentum going into the summer hard-court season. Instead he lost to Ferrer in straight sets last Friday as Spain marched to its first overall victory on U.S. soil.

Technically Fish, the top-ranked American in the ATP standings (ninth, to Roddick's 10th), should bear more responsibility for the outcome, especially given how much his shaky service games in a five-set loss to López in the opening rubber and his struggles converting break points against Ferrer contributed to the lost tie. But on the U.S. team Roddick—whose 33 career Davis Cup singles victories are second only to John McEnroe's 41 in the U.S. record book—is still "the alpha dog," as Courier puts it, so he was ascribed at least as much blame. "These [Davis Cup] losses hurt more than my selfish losses," Roddick said after losing to Ferrer.

He's had some crushing ones during his 11-year professional career: three in Wimbledon finals and one in the 2006 U.S. Open final. Those losses were all to Roger Federer, but lately Roddick's conquerors have been more mortal. His inability to advance past the round of 16 at the Australian Open and at Wimbledon—losing in straight sets to journeymen Stanislas Wawrinka and López, respectively—may take him out of the Grand Slam discussion going into the U.S. Open and beyond. And in Austin his once mighty weapons (booming serve, big forehand) were ineffectual against the arsenal of Ferrer, who may not have explosive strokes but excels on all surfaces.

There's no question that Roddick—the 2003 U.S. Open champion, a five-time Grand Slam finalist and a member of the '07 U.S. Davis Cup title team—has had a great run. But with his 29th birthday approaching on Aug. 30, and with young guns such as Ryan Harrison poised to replace him in the Davis Cup lineup, he may have reached the winter of his career. Unless he finds a new gear this summer, he's in for more empty moments on the court and more early exits from the big stage.

Now on

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NONLETHAL WEAPONS Roddick can no longer overwhelm opponents with his mighty serve and big forehand.