I chose to write an article about tennis, specifically the U.S. Open, since I have played tennis since I was very young, and it is still one of my favorite sports both to play and to watch.
Now, there were a lot of story-lines in this year's U.S. Open, from del Potro upsetting Federer, to Serena Williams' epic tirade, to American youngster Melanie Oudin's historic run, through to Kim Clijsters winning the tournament as a wild card.
I, as you can tell based on the photo I have chosen for this piece, have opted not to focus on any of these story-lines.
Rather, on something I have noticed through years of watching majors; there are always some matches in the early rounds of these tournaments by two people who never advance far and that you may have never heard of that are some of the most competitive and exciting matches that you'll see in the tournament, but are rarely put on television.
ESPN and other carriers tend to choose to show the big names early in the tournament, and excepting the rare cases when they stumble early (see Dinara Safina), the matches shown are rarely competitive and not particularly fun to watch.
Well, one of those special matches made it through, and as is usually the case, the reason was one of the players was an American. Taylor Dent had missed about two years with a back injury, and he was going up against a Spaniard named Ivan Navarro at night on one of the two smaller main courts. The final score of the match: 6-4, 5-7, 6-7 (1), 7-5, 7-6 (9), Dent.
Afterwards he grabbed the chair umpire's microphone, told the crowd, "You guys are unbelievable. Thank you," and proceeded to do a victory lap high-five-ing everyone in the front row, except for one gentleman who demanded a hug.
At that moment, watching a player who was never a top ten talent and was never going to be, playing someone likely doomed to the same fate, then celebrating under the lights in Flushing, I could only think of one thing: this is what sports is all about.
It's not really about the overwhelming talent of the upper crust players in any sport (though they do give us something to gawk at, and make us realize that we'll never hit that good a shot or throw that good a pass), nor is it about the money and the big stage and the lights.
It's about two guys (or ten or twelve or twenty-two) stepping on the field or court, giving everything they have, and competing.
Dent, the winner of the match, got to play second seed Andy Murray of Great Britain and was summarily ousted. That match, however, will stay in my memory for quite some time, significantly longer than the final between del Potro and Federer.
The championship match had artistry the Dent-Navarro match lacked, but didn't seem to contain the same fire. It's just a belief I have that once you get accustomed to winning, as Federer and del Potro have, you lose some of the enthusiasm for it.
Dent and Navarro's struggle may have been pointless given what lied ahead for the winner, but both played like they had everything to lose, and I will never forget them for that.
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