NEW YORK -- That Andy Roddick's last match as a twentysomething would not be his last match at the 2012 U.S. Open was hardly in doubt Tuesday, especially whenever he was launching that intimidating, tough-to-handle serve of his.
To close the first set: ace at 141 mph.
To close the second: ace at 134 mph.
To close the third: ace at 127 mph.
Yes, even as Roddick's 30th birthday approaches on Thursday, even as his body has succumbed to injury after injury, that serve is pretty much still the same as it ever was. Now that he more frequently faces opponents who grew up cheering for him -- such as 21-year-old qualifier Rhyne Williams of Knoxville, Tenn., the foil for Tuesday's 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory -- Roddick knows more than ever he needs to rely on the best thing he's got, and 20 aces helped this time.
"You really don't see that shot," Williams said glowingly about Roddick's serve.
Heading into his Grand Slam debut, the 283rd-ranked Williams had one primary concern: "I was just hoping he wasn't going to go at me with a serve."
"I'm like, 'Oh, no. Where's he going?' That's the first thing I thought of. Then it was, `It'll be great. I can play in front of a big crowd.' It was quite an experience," said Williams, the NCAA runner-up for the University of Tennessee last year and a 12-year-old when Roddick won the U.S. Open in 2003.
That was the last Grand Slam singles title for an American man, the longest drought in history for a country that produced the likes of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors (not to mention others such as Bill Tilden or Don Budge).
Roddick found himself in an era dominated by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal -- and, more recently and to a lesser extent, Novak Djokovic, who began defense of his U.S. Open title by overwhelming 69th-ranked Paolo Lorenzi of Italy 6-1, 6-0, 6-1 on Tuesday night -- and while he is without a second major championship for his resume, he kept adapting his game to try to do just that.
Roddick dedicated himself to stronger fitness. He learned a better backhand. He improved his volleying.
"I saw the way the game was going. You have to get stronger and quicker. I don't think there was much room for a plodder who could hit the ball pretty hard," Roddick said. "It was a conscious effort, at times, and I feel like that's added to longevity a little bit."
Ryan Harrison -- he's 20, two years older than Christian -- credits Roddick with helping him in various ways.
"The older I've gotten, and the more my game has developed, he's been definitely teaching me about ... being energetic and learning how to let bad moments slide off your shoulder and keep moving forward," said the older Harrison, who faces Benjamin Becker in the first round of singles on Wednesday. "One of the best things that he doesn't get recognized for is how persistent he is and how competitive he is. He's a guy that won't let you win Xbox."
Appearing in his 13th consecutive U.S. Open -- and wearing all-American sneakers for the occasion, replete with red and white stripes, and white stars on a blue background -- Roddick sounded a bit willing to alter the expectations this time around. His own, and those of others.
Asked in an on-court interview what sort of present he would like in a couple of days, Roddick smiled and responded: "I just want to be around for next week. That's all I want for my birthday."
After a pause, he added: "And then we'll renegotiate."
Next up for Roddick is a second-round match against 19-year-old Bernard Tomic of Australia, who at last year's Wimbledon became the tournament's youngest quarterfinalist since Boris Becker.
Another test against another kid.
Roddick, a former No. 1 who is seeded 20th at Flushing Meadows, is coy when it comes to questions about how much longer he can compete at the top of the game.
"I mean, I don't think you can ask him about retirement right now. I think as long as he's happy and he's playing well, I think he's going to keep playing," said 27th-seeded Sam Querrey of the U.S., who beat Yen-hsun Lu of Taiwan 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5.
Like Ryan Harrison, the 24-year-old Querrey is one of several younger Americans who have benefited from Roddick's advice and offers to train together in Austin, Texas.
Roddick extended that opportunity to Rhyne Williams after beating him Tuesday.
"He's kind of been the leader of American tennis amongst the guys for the last 10 years. He's been great. I mean, when I was 18, 19 -- still to this day -- he was always one of the first guys to invite me to Austin to practice," Querrey said. "He's always there for motivation. He's always there to tell you if you had a good win or to tell you, `Hey, step it up,' if you had a bad loss. He's really been a great mentor to everyone."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.