With 14 days left before New Year’s Eve, I reminisce on one of the most electrifying seasons in tennis…..
Remember Wimbledon 2008? When the world’s top two stared at each other’s eyes from across the net? I wrote a column on this space last July entitled, “The Heavyweight Championship of the World.” It was true. The rivalry of Roger and Rafa is one of the sporting world’s most watched—and one of tennis history’s best, right alongside Borg-McEnroe and Sampras-Agassi.
I have read dozens of articles on the epic Roger vs. Rafa final but must say that the best piece comes from one of the best (if not THE best) tennis writer in the world, Peter Bodo. (If Pete Sampras, who recently released his autobiography, “A Champion’s Mind,” chose him to be co-author…. then he must be the best, right?)
Squandered break points. Rain delays. Two-set comebacks. Saved match points. A finish just 12 minutes shy of five hours. And, at 9:16 p.m. London time, the latest ending for a Wimbledon singles final. It wasn’t just a Grand Finale. It was a Match For The Ages. A rivalry that’s unrivalled. A marathon classic. Here are 14 random thoughts…
1. Manny Sainz, the president of Casino Español de Cebu, is beaming a toothful grin today. Next to our own, his favorite country won. And how Spain has dominated sports… Nadal wins two Grand Slam titles. Spain win football’s Euro 2008. Pablo Larrazabal (any relation with Dr. Yong?) wins golf’s Open de France. And Alejandro Valverde wins the Tour de France first stage en route to possibly the yellow jersey in Paris. Said Manny Sainz: Viva España!
Please watch the movie tonight. Please do. Sorry, it’s not starring Manny Pacquiao—he’s no heavyweight. Tonight, at 9 p.m. (RP time), it’s a battle between two champions.
One is the undisputed titleholder on grass. He’s won 65 of the last 65 on the greens; 40 straight on this tournament that you’ve probably heard of, Wimbledon. The other is the undisputed combatant on clay. Of 117 matches on the red dirt, he’s won 115; he’s 28 of 28 matches at another event you probably know: the French Open.
Tonight, the two settle the score. They’ll score. One against one. Nobody else on the boxing ring—or, the 78-ft. x 27-ft. tennis court rectangle, it’s called—will be there, not even the presence beside their chairs of their coaches or trainers.
This title fight is compelling because of how similar—and dissimilar—these two champions look. They both wear Nike. They’re 6-foot-1. They both wear white. They both have first-names that begin with “R” and represent countries that start with “S.”
Only five men in the history of tennis have won all four Grand Slam singles titles: Andre Agassi, Don Budge, Roy Emerson, Rod Laver and Fred Perry. Sad to say, the initials “RF” won’t be scribbled alongside that list.
At least, not yet. Because the way Rafael Nadal embarrassed him at the French Open final, it’s hard to imagine—on clay—the world’s No. 1 beating the world’s No. 2. Ever.
Funny, no? Roger Federer is close to being crowned “The Greatest.” Against almost every player on the ATP Tour, he has a winning record. Against Andy Roddick: it’s 15-2. Against David Ferrer, 8-0. Against Nikolay Davydenko: 12-0. But against Nadal, it’s the opposite: he’s lost 11 of their 17 encounters; 10 of 11 on clay.
The question begs: Can Roger be adjudged as history’s best if he fails to beat Nadal and continues to falter at the French Open?
(This photo and all the photos below from www.rolandgarros.com)
Nick Torres, one of Cebu’s top Class-A netters before he shifted to golf, said it best: “I would love to see RF finally win but I’m afraid it’s never gonna happen as long as Rafa is around… eventually, RF’s self-belief will go away as the balls from the other side keep coming back, back, back…”
Graeme Mackinnon, text-messaging from Australia, added: “He (Nadal) is a class above all, no doubt. I don’t think Roger will get his first French title unless Nadal has food poisoning!”
And Jon Wertheim, one of this planet’s best tennis writers, wrote: “(The only way Nadal will lose)… Maybe he’ll get his foot run over by a Vespa.”
He is Tiger Woods by another name. He is Manny Pacquiao on the tennis court. He is the undisputed title-holder, the pound-for-pound champion in this sport using yellow balls, linesmen, deuces. Since Feb. 2, 2004—that’s four long years ago—he has been world no. 1, a record 217 nonstop weeks on Mount Everest.
He is, as you know, Federer Express. Why that moniker? Because his service deliveries, like the courier company FedEx, is peerless and sublime. A 128-mph ace down the ‘T’ that you want delivered right this minute? “Sure,” he answers, then pounds an ace. A forehand crosscourt winner on breakpoint that you need now? “No problem,” he adds, thumping an unreachable shot down the corner.
For with Roger Federer, here’s the slogan: I’ll Deliver. And deliver he has. Last year, out of the four Grand Slam singles titles, he won three. The year before, he won the same number: 3 of 4. In the past four years, he’s won 11 of the last 16 major titles.
Dan Mastous, a huge tennis fan and good friend who lives near Boston, U.S.A., e-mailed to say that last Monday, he was in New York City to watch with 19,000 other spectators a tennis spectacle that’s excited The Big Apple since the event was announced last year. It’s Roger Federer vs. Pete Sampras. Live. At the Madison Square Garden. Here’s Dan’s detailed account of what he saw…
(Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)
“Hey John. Hope everything is going great. Just wanted to say I saw the Federer/Sampras exhibition Monday night. It was an outstanding match from my perspective. Though many who saw it found it boring. Not too many long rallys, mostly Sampras serving and volleying, or chipping and charging.
“For Federer’s part, he just did what he could to keep things close and ended up fighting for his life at the end. He won the first set easily, 6-3. Then let the second get to a tiebreak, which Sampras won.”
For the past 21 years, I’ve followed the sport. I remember—long before cable TV was plugged to our homes—trooping to The Boulevard and Cafe Valeriano along Osmeña Blvd. to watch (beamed “live” via a huge satellite dish) Boris Becker diving for volleys to collect his three Wimbledon trophies. In the late 1980s, I recall seeing Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg in the “Fire and Ice II” showdown at the Araneta Coliseum. Then in ‘99, I had the opportunity to watch Andre Agassi lift the U.S. Open trophy in New York. And, just two months ago in Malaysia, I had the rare moment of shaking hands with Pete Sampras. Who, among all, do I consider the best of all time?
None of the above. Not Lendl with his three French and U.S. Open titles. Not Agassi, who’s captured the Olympic gold plus all the four tennis majors. And not even Sampras, the man I idolized the whole 1990s decade.