In a break from convention news, sports fans have no doubt been following Andy Roddick’s retirement from professional tennis. On Wednesday Roddick—who had announced that this year’s U.S. Open would be his last tournament—lost his fourth-round match to Argentinian Juan Martin del Potro. The tributes have poured in, focusing on Roddick’s stature as the last American man to win a grand slam (the 2003 U.S. Open), his always-entertaining press conferences, and his blistering serve (once clocked at 155 mph). Roddick was the hardest worker in men’s tennis, always willing to put in that much extra time on the court or in the gym to offset the God-given talent of competitors like Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer (who beat him in four grand slam finals).
As far as I know, Roddick is not active in politics. But he did once display quiet courage when a fellow player was confronted with a bully. In early 2009 the United Arab Emirates refused to grant a visa to Israeli player Shahar Peer to play in the Dubai Tennis Championships. Context is important here: the three-week Gaza War had just ended, and anger in the Arab world was understandably running high. Yet Peer had nothing to do with that, and as the only Israeli woman in the tournament, she was an easy target. Roddick, the defending champion at Dubai, withdrew from the tournament in protest, foregoing a crack at $2 million in prize money. He was the only player, male or female, to boycott. “I really didn’t agree with what went on over there,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the best thing to mix politics and sports, and that was probably a big part of it.”
Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim summed it up best at the time: “Political expediency would dictate that he blame a groin injury or travel fatigue or the logistics and move on. Instead, he makes a quick, forceful statement—nothing grandstanding or attention-seeking—and goes on his way.”
I always rooted for Roddick after that.