PARIS -- Even approaching the advanced age of 30, Andy Roddick's signature stroke remains his serve. On clay, however, it and the rest of Roddick's game -- perhaps most notably his lack of movement -- is blunted.
Sunday, as the sun began to sink in the pale blue Parisian sky, there was yet another reminder that Roland Garros, for Roddick anyway, continues to be the source of a recurring allergic reaction.
Nicolas Mahut laced a waist-high not-so-fast ball, with a gorgeous one-hand backhand service return, and Roddick stood along the baseline, flat-footed, as it dove down and kissed the line. That was the second set and, as it turned out, the beginning of the end of Roddick, who has been struggling all year with an injured hamstring.
The actual end came a few sets later, when Mahut stepped into another second serve and fired another one-hander down the line. And this is the guy who went three days and more than 11 hours against John Isner a few years ago at Wimbledon because he couldn't manage a decent return in a big spot? Mahut, incredibly, was 7-for-7 when looking at a break point on Roddick's serve. And, whimsically, he out-aced Roddick, 13-8.
The score was 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, and yes, you could see this one coming. Last week on the clingy clay in Dusseldorf, Germany, Roddick lost all three of his matches in the World team Cup -- the last one to someone named Go Soeda.
"I move just horrendously out here," Roddick, even more self-deprecating than usual, observed later. "My first step is just so bad on this stuff. I feel like I'm always shuffling or hopping or not stopping. Just from the first ball to get set, I feel like I'm really exposed too easily out there.
"When you don't have much of a flow going, it lends itself to sporadic play. It all adds up. You can't fake it out here. These are the best tournaments in the world. It's tough to lie out here."
Asked later another question about his movement, Roddick stared back at the questioner.
"It sucks just as much as it did three minutes ago when I said I wasn't happy with it," he said.
Of the hamstring, Roddick would only say, in clipped words, "I'm fine."
Which suggests, of course, the opposite. It's conceivable that a not-so-healthy Roddick felt obligated to play here because his two chief sponsors -- Lacoste sportswear and Babolat rackets -- are French companies.
"It was always my plan to play here," Roddick said. "So we stuck to that plan."
Roddick, a one-time Grand Slam singles champion and four-time finalist, has a combined record (see chart) of 117-33 at the Australian and U.S. opens and Wimbledon. He is now a wretched 9-10 at the French Open.
The loss to Mahut was the fifth time in 10 appearances that Roddick has left Paris without a single victory.
Roddick never had lost to Mahut in four previous ATP-level matches, but none of them were played on clay. These two go way back to juniors and, instructively, Mahut's only career victory over Roddick came on clay at the 1998 World Youth Cup final. A year later, Roddick beat Mahut in the quarterfinals on his way to the 1999 Orange Bowl title.
Few in the game have been more consistent than Roddick over the past decade. After winning the 2003 U.S. Open -- at the age of 19 -- Roddick reached the No. 1 ranking and spent three straight years in the top three and eight consecutive years in the top 10 all told.
But even as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and, now, Novak Djokovic have surpassed him, Roddick has worked hard to improve the subtleties of his game with coach Larry Stefanki. Last year, there was a flash of the past at the U.S. Open, when Roddick reached the quarterfinals, defeating David Ferrer along the way.
This year, though, has been a tough slog.
The hamstring issue forced him to retire in the second round of his match against Lleyton Hewitt at the Australian Open. There have been more lows (losses to Denis Istomin and Kevin Anderson) than highs (a lovely, karmic win over Roger Federer in Miami).
Early in his career, Roddick might have cut short his postmatch interview -- or been more contentious in his exchanges with the press.
Sunday, as Interview Room No. 2 slowly filled with reporters, his hat was pulled over his eyes and his head was down. He seemed to be composing himself.
On several occasions, he made a point of pausing. After one particularly long-winded question/soliloquy, he smiled.
"Wow," Roddick said. "Bet you guys wish you could write down what I was thinking during that, right? This is the point where the older, better version of myself takes a second.
"You deal with your emotions, and I'll deal with mine. I've done it long enough to know what feels good and what doesn't. That, out there, did not feel good."