He hit the ball as hard as anyone, yet there was more to his game than power, especially as he matured – and slowed. Those who knew Andy Roddick best testify to his considerate nature, but ball-kids from Wimbledon to Melbourne knew a slowly-proffered towel would earn a glare as severe as any headmaster's. "Towel!" he would bark, and there it would be. He kept umpires and line judges on edge, reporters waiting and fans enthralled.
Yet all of these seeming inconsistencies were of a piece with a driven athlete who ignored niceties in pursuit of excellence. When he retired towards the end of day four at the US Open on his 30th birthday, there might have been a hint of grandstanding about the timing – it arrived to click nicely for the evening TV news bulletins and shortly before Roger Federer took to the court for the first match of the evening session – but it was hard to deny the Texan his moment. He's earned it.
He still has at least one match to play – in the second round on Friday against the equally enigmatic Australian teenager Bernard Tomic – and it would be typically perverse if he won and advanced in the tournament when everyone thought he'd left the building. Some wonder why he didn't wait until he'd lost before announcing his departure, but he has always done things his own way.
He said he is going now because he doesn't think he can endure the physical sacrifice needed to reach next year's US Open, the one where he won his only major, in 2003, at the loud, garish cathedral of noise he loves more than any of the game's more genteel settings. Roddick is as American as baseball and New York is the perfect setting for his big, brash brand of confrontational tennis.
He did not seek kind profiles or the approval of commentators he did not know (although neither did he take criticism that well). What mattered most were points on the board, respect in the locker room and, no doubt, money in the bank.
How good was he? He won 32 ATP Tour titles, reached the final at Wimbledon three times and, until three years ago - when he put Andy Murray out there and almost beat Roger Federer in five-setter that went against him 16-14 in the closing tie-break - about as good as you can be if you're not Federer or Nadal.
As with so many players in the modern game, the injuries kicked in as his body wilted. He started losing to players he would normally beat easily. His frustration grew and his temper shortened. I remember one nasty exchange he had with a journalist in Rome, after going out in the first round. There were others in China, Wimbledon, Paris... well, most everywhere.
He probably did not see these incidents as significant. He'd been to the top and coming down the mountain was enough of an unpleasant experience without the attention of people he regarded, some times, as pests. Maybe he was right. And maybe, some times, he was wrong.
Roddick entertained and infuriated the media, toying with them, amusing them, confounding them. He was never going to volunteer his plans for retirement until it suited him, although Serena Williams revealed last night he told her several months ago.
"On some big moments this year, I think I've known I was done," Roddick said. "Walking off at Wimbledon, I felt like I knew. Playing here, I don't know what it was, but I couldn't imagine myself being here in another year. Whatever my faults were, I've always felt like I've never done anything halfway. This is probably the first time in my career that I can sit here and say, I'm not sure I can put everything into it physically and emotionally. I don't know if I want to disrespect the game by coasting home."
Or embarrass himself. Elite athletes do not like to be shown up in public, especially if they have been champions.
While Roddick brought excitement, it didn't always coincide with victory. In 2005, two years after he won the title here, he went out in three tie-breakers in the first round to Gilles Muller, who was ranked 68 in the world. It was a poor exit for him and his new sponsor, American Express, who had built their advertising campaign around his "mojo".
But Roddick did not lie down easily. With a serve as lethal a leveller as a Colt 45, he rode into town with confidence and often left with the booty. In a long, tough career, he had the universal respect of people he was trying to crush on the circuit week in, week out.
Away from the battle, there was camaraderie. Andy Murray respected him but, like his fellow-Andy, had no mercy on court. When Roddick was losing heavily to Murray in the semi-final at Queen's last year, an embarrassed foil to the Scot in his pomp, he captured the mood perfectly with a scream of despair which had a comic tint: "Keep it social!"
Roddick, of course, never kept it social. He was a fighter to the end – at least until he could no longer throw a meaningful haymaker. Tomic better keep his gloves up.
He will be hugely missed.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © marianne bevis