Mark vs Cancer

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Wimbledon Classic

This weekend I watched what will likely go down as one of the greatest athletic competitions of all time, as young, hungry and indomitable Rafael Nadal outlasted the venerable, invincible five-time defending champion Roger Federer in a five-set, seven hour thriller in the Wimbledon finals.
Anyone who follows tennis even casually (like I do) had been anticipating this rematch of last year's final for the past twelve months. As the number one and two players in the world, Federer and Nadal had been on a collision course for this championship rematch ever since Federer gutted out a five-set victory last year.

But coming into this year's final, Nadal had time and momentum on his side--not to mention a healthy knee which had slowed him last in last year's final. After all, Nadal had crushed Federer in straight sets on the clay courts of the French Open final just a few months before. But Wimbledon is a grass surface, and Federer has owned that surface for the past five years running like nobody else ever has in history. Going in, he had sixty five straight victories on grass to go with his five championships.

Not to mention that Federer, in his five year run of greatness, has maintained such a totally dominant physical and psychological edge over every opponent. He garnered the nickname Darth Federer when he wore black once in the final and appeared like a black-clothed tennis exterminating machine, completely unflappable and untouchable. To watch Federer has been to watch tennis played to perfection: perfect body control, perfect power, perfect temperament and perfect focus.Only one thing has seemed to be able to faze Federer in his unprecedented dominance, and that would be Nadal, who has been the Kryptonite to Federer's Superman, owning an 11-6 lifetime record against him, really the only opponent who has been able to consistently compete with and even outperform Federer over the past five years, though Federer's Wimbledon victory last year seemed to reassert his physical and mental superiority to Nadal, as well as to every other tennis player who has ever lived.
But Nadal was having none of that this year. In contrast to Federer's polished perfection, Nadal has the appearance of a raging wild beast, all sweat, sneers, stringy hair, grunts and fist pumps. For all of Federer's graceful precision, Nadal has equal amounts of pure energy and athleticism. And both have unparalleled competitive wills: the same brilliant fire that illuminates Federer also radiates from Nadal. In the Wimbledon finals, Nadal jumped to a two set lead and seemed poised to win in three sets. But Federer, regrouping during some timely rain delays, came back to win the third and fourth sets, setting up an epic fifth set that stretched beyond anything that Wimbledon's storied history had ever seen and into the deepening London twilight. In a fifth set of a final there are no tiebreakers, and so the match went into extra games, with the champion being whoever could string together two straight victorious games. Finally, Nadal broke Federer to take an 8-7 lead, and then he served out his final game to claim the victory as he collapsed along the baseline. When he arose, his face was streaming with tears of triumph and exhaustion. Federer graciously congratulated him as they both accepted their trophies.

Tennis is virtually alone in the world of sports in its intra-dynamics, a one-on-one direct competition, two competitors facing each other across the net, directly interacting, slugging it out and trying to beat each other. No teams, no court-side coaches, no timeouts (unless you're lucky with a rain delay). And in a five set match, there is so much time for momentum to build and ebb, so many turning points, so much endurance required. What made this final so singular was that it was a face-off of the two unquestioned best players on the planet, each at their prime (though perhaps Federer is on the backstretch of his greatness while Nadal is still coming off of first turn of his), with each playing flawlessly, relentlessly past all boundaries of normalcy, each refusing to lose, until finally Federer, in what could only be total mental and physical exhaustion, showed the slightest chink in his armor, and Nadal, the ursurper to his throne, rushed in with the dagger to finish him off.

It's hard to say at this point who is the number one player in the world, as the margin between victory and defeat was so razor thin. The edge would have to go to Nadal, but no doubt Federer has several more good years left, and still has the tools and the mental toughness needed to reclaim his throne.

I, along with tennis fans around the world, hope that over the next few years this rivalry, just like this match, continues to ebb and flow, back and forth between who has the upper hand, who is the world's greatest. It is a study in contrasting styles, of how competition can propel rivals to new levels of greatness, of grace versus power.

It is a thrill to behold.

Long live the kings!


Dad said...

After you get settled and write you novel, maybe you should take up sports writing. What a great summary of the match. I didn't get to see it but heard about it.

I can't explain it, but I have always enjoyed matches at that level of competition.

Ken Rosewell versus Rod Laver
(the Federer/Nadal of the

McInroy versus Connor

Bjorn Borg vs. McInroy

All of these were rivalries that transcended the sport itself to a degree. Many more on the woman's side as well.

Wimbleton and the US Open bring out such great matches over the years.

I too love the game when played at that level. Alot of these guys burn themselves out a relatively young age due to the intensity of continuely playing at the levels they due. Boris Becker, Pete Sampras come to mind.

Great Sport Mark.


Goose said...

I also heard about the match, but I wasn't able to see it. I love to watch tennis, but for some reason I really love grass. Anyway, I hope that Federer and Nadal continue to have battles like this one.