Wake Up America, Tennis Is Cool Again

J SorianoCorrespondent IFebruary 2, 2009

"Tennis is back!" is what the text message said.

It was my old high school tennis teammate, trying to get my attention, but he didn't need to.

I knew he was talking about the Nadal-Verdasco match that had just finished airing.

Certainly he couldn't be inferring that our beloved high school sport was back in the limelight after nearly a 10-year hiatus. He wouldn't dare assume that the rest of the nation was riveted to their widescreens as Fernando Verdasco nearly upset his countryman in a record setting five-set epic.

There was no way he was implying that another Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer matchup on the grand stage—the 18th time these tennis titans have met, but only the first time on a neutral surface in a grand-slam final—could possibly be as entertaining and eagerly anticipated as an Agassi-Sampras duel in the late '90s.

But I think he was.

Tennis is back. Think about it.

The past few years have not been kind to tennis. On the men's side, Sampras and Agassi retired. The rivalries got stale and became overrun with unrecognizable Europeans and South Americans. The American public's thirst for a new star was never satiated by the inconsistent play of James Blake and Andy Roddick.

The women's game lost momentum as the Williams sisters got distracted by injuries and off-court interests and evolved into a power fest of grunts and pretty Russian women with big strokes and non-marketable identities.

Other than the overly marketed Maria Sharapova, the average sports fan couldn't tell you the difference between an Ivanovic or a Kuznetsova.

But after a lackluster opening to the tournament Down Under, the end of the week heated up literally and figuratively with 110 degree temperatures and five hour matches that are setting the record books on fire.

On Thursday we were treated to Federer versus Andy Roddick, a clinical beatdown of the top American player, a showcase of the Swiss star's near-flawless artistry of the sport.

Friday, the tournament exploded with the five hour, 15 minute ball pounding masterpiece between Nadal, the world's most exciting player, and the unheralded Verdasco in the most impressive match of his career.

On Saturday, Serena Williams bullied her way past an overwhelmed Dinara Safina to win her 10th Grand Slam trophy and recapture her sport's No. 1 ranking at the ripe age of 27.

Add to this feat, that Serena surpassed the career winnings record for women at somewhere north of $23 million. And oh, by the way, she also teamed with sister Venus to grab the doubles title too, their eighth Grand Slam title together, an extraordinary feat for siblings in the same sport.

Can you imagine if Michael Jordan had an older brother that also played for the Bulls?

If that wasn't enough, Sunday brought us another unbelievably juicy final, Federer-Nadal, the seventh time they've met in a Grand Slam final. No hype needed, no syrupy montages, the drama for this was already built into the script.

Widely considered the greatest player to swing a racket, Federer, the sport's equivalent of Tiger Woods, desperately needed another title to tie Pete Sampras's 14 Grand Slam victories, and to continue his pursuit of history.

But Nadal, the perfect foil, owned a 4-2 advantage in Grand Slams against his storied opponent and stands as the only player on the planet that can exchange strokes as well as victories week in and week out with the Swiss star.

Not since the Agassi-Sampras rivalry, has there been such anticipation when two players meet on the final day. For many, the 2008 Wimbledon battle, dubbed by many as the greatest match ever played, was still fresh in their minds when these two faced off in the Australian heat.

And naturally it didn't disappoint. After four hours of obscenely good tennis, Nadal prevailed in a five setter that is already being billed as an instant classic. The tennis was so good in fact, that around the third set, the commentators started sounding repetitive in their ogling of the brilliant shotmaking.

And there you have it. Big time, rivalry-induced tennis filled with drama, personalities and record-setting runs towards history. The kind of tennis talked about days after by adults and emulated on the court by kids. Tennis that makes the highlights of ESPN.

Tennis is cool again, isn't it?