W: Final Final Thoughts

Friday, July 11, 2008 /by

Are you ready to move on? Are you ready to head for Bastad, Gstaad, Stuttgart, or Newport? (Yes, the men are in all of these locations this week.) Are you ready to follow the ups and downs of Frankie Dancevic and Fernando Verdasco? I’m not quite there yet myself. I usually like to savor the big moments and let the run-of-the-mill go for a while. Anyway, the flashbulbs from Centre Court on Sunday are still popping out of the gloom and into my head. Each day I talk to someone who generally is not interested in tennis who says how “moved” or “in awe” or “amazed” they were watching the Wimbledon final. Even acknowledging its off-the-charts quality, I didn’t expect the match to make such an impression on the world at large. I mean, it even made the cover of the U.S.' major sports magazine—what an honor!

To get it all out of my system, let me offer 10 thoughts that have come to mind in the aftermath of the momentous event.

1. I missed the first two games Sunday, so I went back and watched them on the DVR. I shouldn’t have been shocked, but I was by the way Nadal played the first point. He hit a shot that could have been a winner up the line, then topped it with a hook forehand into the corner. This is not how you play the first point of a match. It’s the way you play when you’re up a set and a break and you’re on a roll. We should have known something special was coming.

2. I enjoyed Jon Wertheim’s piece in SI, especially knowing how much time he must have had to turn it around—like, two hours? But who wrote the absurd subhead (not Wertheim, I’m sure): “Imposing his game on grass, Rafael Nadal ripped powerful topspin and sidespin shots to dethrone Roger Federer in a Wimbledon marathon that was the greatest match of all time.”

Sounds, um, thrilling. "Sidespin”? Was that one of the keys to this match?

3. Our friend Bill Simmons is allowing tennis into his official sporting pantheon. He’s owned up to the idiocy of his anti-Wimbledon column for ESPN the Magazine and is now pledging to give tennis a chance. He’s even elevated that column to “worst ever” status (you have to also wonder who was editing and fact-checking it). I’m glad to see the Sports Guy can admit a mistake and not just pretend it never happened (Has the Times’ William Rhoden done the same thing after he admitted he left the final after two sets to watch a Will Smith movie? His track record isn’t great in this department.) It might not matter to you and me, but having Simmons give some space to tennis is good news for the sport in the U.S.

4. Kudos to Boston sportswriter and non-tennis fan Bob Ryan for naming the Wimbledon final his favorite sporting event of the first half of 2008 on PTI, over some pretty strong competition: the Super Bowl, Tiger at the U.S. Open, his Celtics. Ryan said it was a day he would never forget. Fellow PTI host Michael Wilbon also gave the match props, but went with Tiger, of course. What is his obsession with that guy?

5. As far as the debate about who plays more "beautiful" tennis, Federer or Nadal, it’s hard not to fall for anything, in any sport, that looks effortless. The gentleman is going to beat the working stiff every time when it comes to aesthetic appeal. Look at the word we use to describe a player's game that’s effective but not a pleasure to watch: workmanlike. Whereas “makes it look easy” is a high compliment. But that doesn’t mean something that looks effortless is more natural or beautiful in an absolute sense than something that looks like work. Maybe it’s my Philly sports fan background—we loved “Charlie Hustle,” Pete Rose, and booed “Mr. Casual,” Mike Schmidt—but I don’t mind seeing someone sweat. That’s the real beauty of tennis: The final score doesn’t discriminate against any style.

6. Sort of looks like Rafa’s in an ad for Salem cigarettes here. Girlfriend doesn't look too happy, either.

7. Will tennis benefit in the long run from this match? I would almost always say no, immediately, to this question—the popularity of the sport has held steady for so long that no single match can affect it. But this one penetrated farther than any other I can remember, with the possible exception of ones involving Andre Agassi at the U.S. Open at the end of his career (and that was mainly in the States; this one seems global). It was a beyond-sports kind of drama that brought people closer to the players and their families in the stands. Let’s see if Arlen Kantarian can figure out a way to guarantee that Federer and Nadal make the U.S. Open final. I would also love to see them play for the gold medal in Beijing. As far as Nadal as a marketable star, he’ll probably remain more of a curiosity in the U.S., at least for the time being, especially since his English is patchy.

8. Is the ultimate winner here Bjorn Borg? Federer can’t pass his five titles in a row, and look how hard it was for Nadal to do the French-Wimbledon double that Borg pulled off three years in a row. In 1978, he won the French final 1, 1, and 3 over Vilas, and the Wimbledon final 2, 2, and 3 over Connors. That is ridiculous.

9. Watching the last point recently, I was struck by the way the chair umpire (Carlos Ramos? Pascal Maria?) says the final scores (you can hear it pretty well in the clip at the top of this page). He rises to the occasion with a booming, dramatic reading. His timing is also perfect—he says "Game, set, and match, Nadal" right as Rafa hits the dirt. Must have been a glorious moment for the guy, to be the man who said the scores at Federer-Nadal.

At the same time I noticed Federer waiting at the net to shake Nadal’s hand. He may have lost, but none of this means much without him on the other side of that net. He was the mountain to be scaled, his reputation the reason it meant so much to Nadal and everyone else. It’s the privilege and the burden of being the king.

10. Finally, I just want to say, to yell: I can’t believe I went to Wimbledon this year and did not see this match.

OK, moving on. Enjoy Bastad, Gstaad, Stuttgart, and Newport. Or just forget them all and let the flashbulbs keep popping.

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