Sunday, July 06, 2008

For One Hour, I Was A Tennis Fan

Flipping through the channels, after a long weekend of driving through half of Maryland's counties and NoVa, I stumbled upon the fifth set of the Men's final set at about great timing! The world's top two players, Rafael Nadal and the (already) legendary Roger Federer, were battling it out after going 4-6, 4-6, 7-6, and 7-6. The fifth set, won 9-7 by Nadal, ebbed and flowed, then ebbed some more and I was riveted. If you can't appreciate today's match, you're not a sports fan.

I had no interest in the winner, but I was nervous with each break point.

I have never called myself a tennis fan. I've always found that Men's matches lasted too long with their best out of five format; few volleys played out more than serve, weak return, cross-court winner; and everyone serves over 120 MPH. I appreciate the difficulty of high-level tennis, as I was "that" kid who always hit the ball over the tennis court's fencing, but I don't find myself mesmerized enough catch a random match. Yet, none of this mattered in today's match. Great athletes performing at their highest levels is always entertaining television.

Bring on the pundits who'll say this saved tennis; they're wrong. It's forever on life support.

Nadal and Federer traded entertaining and lengthy rallies, fought off multiple break and championship points, and gave us two clutch performances that transcended all sports. The best part for me was that I didn't prefer one player over the other; I could just enjoy the competition. Outside of watching your favorite player or team win, the best experience for a sports fan is watching a great competition without preference for the winner.

I only caught this match because I happened to press "channel down" on the remote. Some fan I am.

If this is as great as tennis gets, then sign me up as a frequent viewer, but therein lies the problem. Now a dying sport, tennis' best players in one of its greatest matches for a major championship barely registered on the general sports fan's radar. It's all or nothing for the sport, and 99% of the time it's nothing. That 1% is spectacular, but too many variables must match, too many stars must align, and it has to be raining outside for casual fans to make it appointment viewing.

A Federer-Nadal rivalry is great, but mass (American) men's tennis appeal comes from colorful characters (e.g., Connors, Agassi, and McEnroe) or domestic dynasties (e.g., Sampras).

For now, let's appreciate Federer's run of five consecutive Wimbledon titles from 2003-7 and enjoy this match's greatness. Who knows, it may not be until America's 250th birthday (that's 2026) before I watch tennis like this again...provided I'm just flipping through the channels.

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