Andy Roddick, newly elected to the Tennis Hall of Fame, had an excellent career. He didn’t make the cut to make it into my Top 20 Players of the Open Era, but he’s just outside it. He’s among the better players to win only a single Slam, and better than some who won two or three. I’ve ranked him as the third best player of his generation (those players born from 1979-83), somewhere in the #21-30 range of the Open Era.
Let’s have a bit of fun. Here’s the scenario: What if Roger Federer had chosen a different career, say became a watch-maker? Let’s imagine that everything else stayed the same on the ATP tour. Almost certainly the player most effect would be Andy Roddick, he of the 3-21 record vs. Federer, including 0-8 at Grand Slams, and 0-4 in Slam finals.
Here’s the caveat: All “what if” scenarios are highly speculative, if only because they tend to overly simplify matters by adjusting one factor without knowing how the other factors would combine without that factor present, but again, we’re just having a bit of fun.
To approach this, we can’t imagine who would have replaced Roger in the previous rounds; the only thing we can do is replace Roger with the player he beat to get to Andy. So in the following, we are going to imagine that Andy faced the opponent that Roger beat, and project an outcome based upon the head-to-head record, both as a whole and on a specific surface type, and then make a judgment. When in doubt, I’ll veer on the side of caution and give Andy’s opponent the win, to keep me honest!
I’m also only going to look at tournaments in which Andy lost to Roger in a semifinal or final. I’m also going to only look at big tournaments—Slams, World Tour Finals, and Masters—at least for now, and then offer a hypothetical career for Andy Roddick, if Roger had followed a different career path.
First of all, here is Andy’s actual career in my new visual tool, “player skyscrapers,” which I explain here.
For the sake of comparison, here are some of the better players of his generation, so we get a sense of how he stacks up:
As you can see, Andy’s career is pretty close to Hewitt’s, and better than any other player of his generation – aside from Federer, of course. Here are a few players to compare Andy to outside of his generation:
That gives us a group of players who Andy is quite similar to. In fact, his career looks almost like the exact inverse of Muster’s.
Now let’s get into the tournaments. As mentioned before, Andy was 3-21 vs. Roger. Of those 21 losses, 6 were in Slam semifinals or finals, 1 at the semifinal of a Tennis Masters Cup (the predecessor to the World Tour Finals), and 2 at Masters tournaments – so 9 big tournaments in all that Andy had a good chance of winning without Roger present, in which he lost to Roger in the SF or F. Let’s take a look at those nine tournaments in chronological order:
2003 Wimbledon SF
Roger’s QF opponent: Sjeng Schalken (Roddick 5-1)
Roger’s Final opponent: Mark Philippoussis (Roddick 1-0)
While nothing is certain, this looks like a Slam that Andy had a good chance of winning – a dominant H2H over Schalken, and a win in his one match vs. Philippoussis. We’ll give this one to Andy, which would have given him two Slams on the year. +1 Slam title
2003 Tennis Masters Cup SF
Runner-up in Roger’s group: David Nalbandian (Roddick 4-2)
Roger’s Final opponent: Andre Agassi (Agassi 1-5)
I don’t think we can give this one to Andy. Not only would Nalbandian not have been a sure thing, but Andre Agassi held a commanding H2H lead, so we won’t change Andy’s result. No title
2004 Wimbledon F
Roger’s SF opponent: Sebastian Grosjean (Roddick 8-1)
This one is pretty easy – Andy would have won this, probably quite handily. +1 Slam title
2004 Canada Masters F
Roger’s SF opponent: Thomas Johansson (Roddick 5-0)
Another easy call – Andy gets an added Masters title. +1 Masters title
2005 Wimbledon F
Roger’s SF opponent: Lleyton Hewitt (tied 7-7)
It is fitting that Hewitt and Roddick are tied at 7-7 in the head-to-head, as they are the two most accomplished players of their generation, after Federer (with apologies to Safin). I think this comes down to surface: Hewitt is 1-0 on clay and 6-4 on hard, so I’d give him those surfaces, but Andy won all three grass tournaments they played, including the 2009 Wimbledon QF. So I’m giving this one to Andy. +1 Slam title
2005 Cincinnati Masters F
Roger’s SF opponent: Robby Ginepri (Roddick 10-1)
Easy call – another title for Roddick. +1 Masters
2006 US Open F
Roger’s SF opponent: Nikolay Davydenko (Roddick 5-1)
We could probably do a similar study for Davydenko, another player greatly impacted by Roger’s presence, with a 2-19 record against the Swiss Maestro. But this is a pretty easy call, so we’ll give this to Andy. +1 Slam title
2009 Australian Open SF
Roger’s QF opponent: Juan Martin del Potro (Del Potro 1-4)
We’ll give this one to Del Potro, who got slaughtered by Roger in the QF. Even if Andy had made it past Delpo, he probably would have lost to Rafa in the final. No title
Roger’s SF opponent: Tommy Haas (Haas 6-7)
Andy’s last, and greatest, challenge to Roger. This is a tough call to make as the two never played on grass. While I’d like to think that Andy would have won, I’ll give this one to Haas just to be conservative. No title
OK, so all things tolled, Andy gets four additional Slams and two additional Masters to give him five Slams and seven Masters titles – quite a career. And this isn’t counting the QF losses to Roger, which he may have been able to get more titles out of.
So how does this new, improved Andy Roddick career look, compared to his actual? To get a sense of that, I included the above changes, but also looked at other losses to Federer at Slams and other tournaments, and adjusted accordingly – this ended adding a couple minor titles (2002 Sydney, 2004 Bangkok) and improved Slam results in one case (2007 US Open final) – but I won’t go into details, so as not to lengthen this too much. I also estimated how Andy’s rankings might have changed, as a result. Here we go:
So there’s not only the addition of the four more Slams and two more Masters, as well as two more ATP 250s, but also another year-end #1 in 2004 and an improvement to #2 in 2005 and 2006. Now let’s compare “Hypothetical Andy” to a new group of players:
All of a sudden, “Hypothetical Andy” is amidst a different caliber of players – between multi-Slam winners like Courier, Wawrinka, and Kuerten, yet not quite in the ranks of the near-greats like Vilas, and Murray (I included Wilander, as the least of the true greats….his career doesn’t look much better than Vilas or Murray, but that’s a different story).
Andy, in his actual career, has nothing to be ashamed about. Yes, he was 1-4 in Slam finals, but he still had a strong career – one of the thirty best of the Open Era. But oh, what could have been…
Cover photo by Boss Tweed from Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of Creatives Commons License.