Sunday, May 18, 2008

Instant Classic

Rafa and Roger. World number 1 versus world number 2. Three hours. Three sets. Championship on the line. Huge leads and thrilling comebacks. Injury timeouts and huge momentum swings. Magical points and staggering misses. Tiebreakers and breaks of serve. SlidingdirtyspeedygutsyheroicCLASSIC. And after all this drama, a winner and a loser.
What a match!
This morning's Hamburg final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer is sure to go down in the annals of their rivalry as one of the greatest matches they've played against each other (and that's saying something, read: last year's Wimbledon final.) This match had everything that draws people to sports and competition, and for me to try to capture all of the subtexts in this event would be futile. If you enjoy sports, think to yourself why, and I promise you, this match had that quality.
I've written a huge blob of words and haven't even told you who won, because, frankly, it doesn't matter. Nadal remains the greatest clay-courter of his era, Federer has begun laying to rest concerns about his pending fall from grace (think Mark Twain and his "reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated"). Both are men of stout hearts, tremendous character and mental toughness, and are at the top of their games.
Now, with the French Open one week away, we can salivate at the possibility of these two squaring off again in the final. Say what you will about the Masters Series events, it's the Grand Slams that make a tennis player truly immortal. And these two in the final, putting on a show like today, is what the sporting world needs to see and needs to appreciate.
Why do I say needs to see? Well, I can promise you that only a handful of Americans with a combination of a Tennis Channel subscription and DVR technology actually watched the match. Does this take anything away from the greatness of the match? Of course not. Does it mean that tennis missed out on the energy burst that an invigorated American tennis viewing public would give the game? Absolutely!
In the midst of the basketball playoffs and early-season basebal, tennis must find a way out of the periphery of the American sporting life and find a way to use battles between these two titans as the springboard. Both tennis fans and the game will be better off.
Oh yeah, Nadal won, 7-5, 6-7, 6-3.

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