“Um, don’t you mean ‘Wimbledon’?”
(If you don’t get the above, go rent “Hot Rod” or search YouTube for “Hot Rod Whisky”). Anyway, now that we have that nonsense out of the way, onto wHat actually matters… Okay, I’m sorry. So, Wimbledon. For once, I’m really bummed I don’t own a television. The Associated Press article, which was used on ESPN and other places, does a good job of wrapping up the match. The line reads 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7 (with Nadal winning, in case you live totally in the dark).
But following the match as best as I could on the internet, and then reading the recaps afterwards, that score, as is often the case, only tells a part of the story. What I think it remarkable is not the score, though that obviously belies a match of tremendous quality, but I think it shows that, even in defeat, what a champion Federer is. He was down, but he rose to the occasion. He did not “shrink,” to hearken back to an earlier post, in the face of pressure. Instead, he rose to meet it. Ultimately unsuccessful, he nevertheless managed to show why he had won five titles at the All England Club before. And I think that is what really makes the match special. It was, perhaps, a changing of the guard of sorts, with Federer perhaps now finally being the number two player in the world, though I think Nadal needs to win on hardcourts as much as Federer needs to win on clay to truly cement what I’m sure he desires his legacy to be.
Regardless of any legacy or complete slams or any of that, I think that the way they both played really affirmed what I suspect most people have known for a long time – they are champions. For Federer, it was perhaps more of a hallmark that he had left his old self behind. That was the player who had tantrums. This was the new Federer. Dignified and tenacious, even in defeat. And even more than being tenacious in defeat, being so tenacious after starting defeat so closely in the face after losing the first two sets, then clawing his way back (down in the third set even), to ultimately force three tie breakers. It was inspirational so many ways. But mostly I think it reminded really why I enjoy watching him play. He’s an artist on the court, to be sure, but really it is his unwillingness to accept defeat that I think powers that artistry. He performs the amazing feats he does because he is unwilling to surrender. Sometimes he loses, as we just saw, but that doesn’t mean he accepts it.
I don’t mean to short shrift Nadal in any way. He is obviously a remarkable athlete. And he has changed his game to suit the grass of Wimbledon as opposed to the red clay of Roland Garros. But I guess I just have a thing for what goes inside Federer’s head. I like watching Nadal play, especially the intensity and athleticism he brings to the game. And certainly he has a remarkable mental capacity for the game of tennis and sport. But Federer, to me, is like Tiger. There is something his brain that just makes you think that it is his will that generates these physical gifts, and that somehow if we could replicate that will, we could replicate their ability. When I look at Federer, I don’t see the remarkable physical athlete that I see in Nadal. And that is a huge part of what is so amazing. He looks, largely, like a regular, yet meticulous, individual. Yet somehow, he wills his rather ordinary looking self to extraordinary heights. Check one for mind over matter.