I could not help but notice the buzzards circling and swooping down on the scarred lawns of Centre Court as the media began to pick apart the skin and sinew of Roger Federer’s career. Eulogies sprayed the airwaves after Federer lost to Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals.
I especially enjoyed the barely contained but obvious gloat of former-players-turned commentators whose views of tennis immortality came from binoculars since they played their days on the outside (courts), looking in.
Pam Shriver, Brad Gilbert, Mary Carillo, and Patrick McEnroe—shame on you for piling on.
Surprisingly enough, John McEnroe remained magnanimous, assuring us all that Federer would return, perhaps not to the No. 1 ranking, but to win a few more trophies, including one or more at the All-England Club.
Why such a hurry to push Federer out of the way? The man made tennis into a top-league sport, a world-wide phenomena. The rivalry between Federer and Rafael Nadal prompted skyrocketing viewer ratings because they produced thrilling matches, except on clay. Give Rafa his red dust for a few more years, but let us continue to court the rivalry between the two champions.
I suppose contention is a natural adjunct to sports. Naturally, in order to win, someone else needs to lose. We root for the Yankees to the detriment of Tampa Bay. We root for Green Bay and hope the worst for the Vikings, and so on. In tennis, then, we root for Rafael Nadal to win and everyone else to lose. That is human nature.
But as a true tennis fan, I rooted to see Federer versus Nadal in another scintillating Wimbledon final. That would have been a win-win for everyone—not the lopsided affair I witnessed last Sunday. Who wants to spend his time watching one player totally dominate another? It is impossible not to look good in a room filled with ugly people.
Nadal looked brilliant-faced with token resistance. I would have looked good with no one contesting my shots and knowing that whatever the guy on the other side of the net did, I could counter it.
Granted, Nadal is a bull on the court, grunting and tugging and snorting along the baseline, and he fills a man’s man with envy. The dominance played out as mental—Rafa knew he had this guy, and he wasn’t even going to open the door to let Berdych inside.
That the match was not closer is not Rafa’s fault. Nadal crossed the goal line standing upright while Federer fumbled on the 20-yard line. When you turn the ball over time after time, naturally you cannot win.
Federer needs to bolster his offense in order to remain in the hunt. The thing about sports is that you cannot win by standing still. You either move forward or backward. Whatever his problem is, Federer needs to address it quickly and prepare for a battle in New York.
Will Federer put himself on the disabled list or get back to playing strength? Nothing between these two alternatives will do.
New York will decide the season. Last year Federer won the French Open and Wimbledon, losing the Australian and the U.S. Opens. This year he has lost both the French Open and Wimbledon but could salvage his season by taking the title back in the Big Apple.
That way Federer and Nadal would be even with two slams each. Right now Nadal leads 2-1 in 2010. For tennis fans and the sporting world, what could top the appeal of Nadal reaching his first U.S. Open final against Federer, who has won five of the last six finals in New York?
Nadal won the Australian Open in 2009, defeating Federer in five sets and proving his prowess on the hard courts. The way he is playing now, after his runs through the French Open and Wimbledon, he should make the finals in New York without much difficulty as long as his knees stop knocking his season.
Now, in the lull between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, while the Davis Cup tries to garner some attention from a cold sports media, attention will focus on the fallout of Wimbledon. We will absorb the victory rants of Rafa supporters countered by the nostalgic, often heart-rendered pleas of Federer fans. It means nothing in the long run.
For me, I wait for another major final between the two tested adversaries whose styles and approaches to the game of tennis are as different as night and day. It is like watching the past battle the future, like witnessing finesse counter blunt force trauma.
It will be another battle for the ages—the final frontier in their career of contests as the older player fights to retain the last jewel in his crown, and the younger man demands total capitulation.
Nothing else will perk up the disappointing slam finals so far in 2010—all straight set trouncings with no real drama.
That means boring. That means no one is watching. That means death for tennis. If you don’t believe me, look at the women’s game.
Time to “let loose the Kraken” and sit back and watch the real battle for tennis supremacy rage in the sunset of summer before the blaze of fall brings another season to a close.