Along with the hallowed lawns of Wimbledon, exuberant reporting from the tennis press made this an eventful week on the sports pages. While most of the world was focussed on the soccer World Cup final in which Zinedine Zidane quite literally lost his head, I was recovering from the excitement of the Wimbledon men’s final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Billed as Federer’s moment of truth, and the continuation of a fascinating battle of contrasting styles, the final encouraged some nice writing as well. While much of sports journalism oscillates between the macho (thanks to ESPN) and the mundane, Wimbledon always seems to encourage writers to be more expressive about the wonder and beauty of sport.
Bud Collins, more colorful than insightful these days, was nevertheless sharp enough to dub the Federer-Nadal issue as a Tale of Two Cities, referring to the final at Paris (won by Nadal) and that at London (won by Federer yesterday). Incidentally, Collins went 0/2 on final predictions, naming Federer to win the French Open and Nadal to win Wimbledon. If he really meant what he wrote, then it is a big surprise for me; probably he was just trying to be sensational. Even with my limited knowledge of tennis courts and the way in which the game is played on grass and clay, I made the correct predictions.
Simon Barnes, who in one astonishing sequence of articles last year, compared Federer to Leonardo, and his match with Roddick to the inevitability of Hamlet, was a great deal more restrained this time, but still entertaining when he referred to Nadal as a young shark. In a genre in which sports writers routinely compare sportsmen across different sports (e.g. Woods, Jordan, Armstrong), it is refreshing when someone goes over the top like this. Describing the final, Barnes writes:
This series of matches against Nadal had become a dreadful scar on the record of a great player, almost a denial of the greatness that Federer has had claimed for him. For how can you be the greatest if one man gets to you every time, if one man has the wood over you, if one man, regularly and at will, takes you apart, if you can win a tournament only when someone else beats your rival for you?
Thus, with dreadful inevitability, the men’s singles competition at this tournament had been leading towards the showdown: Federer v Nadal; greatness v leaping ambition; …
In an article describing an earlier match, Barnes was at it again:
After rain comes sun; the end of the storm is traditionally celebrated by the skies with a rainbow. And Federer, still down on base earth, I promise you, became a man dispensing rainbows. It seemed that every winner was struck with a different form of rainbow parabola.
[..] Ancic was a man drowning in rainbows, bewitched, bedazzled and bebuggered, occasionally stopping still to watch and wonder and to accept with heavy shrug and sigh. At one point he raised his racket shoulder-high to applaud his opponent back to the baseline. When Federer is in that kind of form, there is little you can do but lie back and enjoy it.
Linda Robertson writes after the final:
Regal Roger became the first man to win four Wimbledon titles in a row since Pete Sampras in 2000. He is the perfect champion for the All England Club, where elegance clings to the walls like the ivy, where every blooming hydrangea and every plump strawberry is just so.
Lest rabid fans of this year’s finalists indulge in bitter and hurtful tirades across messageboards and tennis forums, Federer and Nadal had the grace to provide this extraordinary gesture after the trophy presentation. Momentary. Fleeting. Unforgettable.