Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sweat and Tears

For one of the few times, if not the first, Roger Federer was made to actually sweat a little in order to truly earn his tears after winning yet another Wimbledon title.

In their second consecutive meeting in the All-England Club's Gentlemen's final, Rafael Nadal battled Federer like no one has on King Roger's most favored ground since he assumed the mantle as the best player in the world. The Spaniard's grass court learning curve has shortened quite a bit since his surprise run to the 2006 final, so much so that his 2007 exploits feel like the early stages of an inevitable march toward him becoming the first Spanish man since Manuel Santana (1966) to win the Wimbledon title.

Until that day, though, this is still Federer's title to win or lose, and in a case of a hoped-for classic slam final actually becoming reality on the sport's most fabled stage, the two best tennis players in the world split the first two sets. But even as he threatened to physically overshadow Federer, maybe Nadal's most important moment in the match may have been one point that he DIDN'T win in the 3rd set.

At 6-5, up 30-15 on Federer's serve, Nadal had a bevy of advantageous options on a mid-court ball that could have given him set points for a two sets to one edge, but an attempt at a crosscourt forehand crashed into the net. Federer held serve to force a tie-break, which he won to maintain an edge at a point in the match when Nadal might have been able to assert his will on the four-time defending champion by forcing him to play from behind for the first time in his Wimbledon championship career.

Nadal rebounded in the 4th set, pressuring Federer with two early breaks. For a few moments, the world #1 even looked rattled, so much so that he began to edgily try to convince the chair umpire to turn off the Hawk-Eye replay system after he disagreed with a call it had reversed in Nadal's favor. Of course, Federer has pull... but not THAT much pull. Nadal pushed the match to five sets, making it the first time Federer had gone the distance at Wimbledon since he defeated Pete Sampras in the Round of 16 in 2001 (furthermore, it was just the fourth five-set men's final at SW19 in the last sixteen years, and the first in the span that didn't include Goran Ivanisevic).

In the championship set, following four sets in which Nadal had converted 4-of-7 break points to Federer being successful on just 1-of-4, the moments of truth would rightly arrive for both men. And, as had been the case with Nadal in Paris, Federer's champion's mettle emerged.

In the Roland Garros final last month, Federer had early opportunities to grab control of the match, but he was shutout by Nadal on ten break point chances in the opening set. Eventually, Nadal's physical play wore down Federer and ended his quest for the RogerSlam. After Sunday, Nadal will be thinking about his own what-could-have-beens until next year.

Twice Nadal was up 40-15 on Federer's serve in the final set, at 1-1 and 2-2. In both games, Federer pulled out big serves and stepped up his aggressive tactics in order to survive. With his opponent having gone 0-for-4 in break chances, Federer quickly seized upon his as he smelled another title. After having narrowly avoided being broken himself, Federer broke Nadal's serve on his second BP for a 4-2 lead. He won twelve of thirteen points in the middle of the set then, when Nadal looked about to hold serve to force Federer to serve out the match, the world #1 turned around the game and made such an action unnecessary.

With his 7-6/4-6/7-6/2-6/6-2 victory, Federer proved once again why he's held in such awe by so many of the all-time greats of the sport. Of course, Nadal is pretty awe-inspiring in his own right, and his play during this fortnight makes one wonder if it's only a matter of time before he finally manages to trip up his rival on this very court. But Nadal couldn't manage it in 2007, leading to Federer's 34th straight SW19 victory, and 54th consecutive grass court win. He's the first player since Bjorn Borg in 1980, and only the second in the past 100 years, to win a 5th Wimbledon title in a row.

Thus, sport's most dependable rivalry carries on (the pair have combined to win the last ten slam singles titles), and just keeps getting better. Where it goes next, nobody knows... but we sure can hope. NYC, anyone? As Nadal said after his incredible two-week performance had come up one set short... "Well, anyway."

That's Rafa-ese for "to be continued until 2008."

In stark contrast to being seen with noticeable sweat and stress on his brow during the final, Federer was back to being his normal crisp self during the post match ceremony. Blazer and slacks? Check. Humble sincerity, with a dash of grandeur? Check. In other words, he looked for all the world like the living all-time legend that he is.

But, off to the side, Nadal was watching with his trademark intense stare. Biding his time. Waiting for his moment to arrive on Centre Court Wimbledon.

On July 8, it was a case of "long live the King." But for how much longer?

Love-Love... The stage has been set, now let's see what happens. It's difficult not to have a sense of deja vu about this year's men's final... there's a definite Borg vs. McEnroe '80 undercurrent to everything. Not only were both of the Wimbledon finalists from 27 years ago at Centre Court for Federer vs. Nadal (Borg in the Royal Box, Mac in the TV booth), but the sense of a player nipping at the heels of a five-time defending champion was evident, as well.

In 1980, McEnroe pushed Borg to the limit in the match that included the historic 18-16 tie-break. The Swede won his fifth straight SW19 title, but he could feel the hot breath of the future American champion breathing down his neck. In 1981, the two met again in the final. Borg didn't get his sixth Wimbledon title.

Could Nadal '08 be the new version of McEnroe '81? Of course, there's little chance that Federer would choose to never play at the All-England Club again after he'd finally been caught from behind, as was the case with Borg, who retired at the end of the season at age 25.
15-Love... A record by any other name. Next year, Roger Federer will be attempting to tie the TRUE Wimbledon mark of six straight titles. Hmmm, I wonder if the networks covering the action will even mention it, considering they deemed Federer's tying of Borg's five-straight mark a "record," even though two other players won five and six straight titles in the early decades of the tournament? After ESPN2 began the fortnight by qualifying the "record" as being contained to the last 100 years, by the end of the tournament it was a "record" without question or explanation.

6...William Renshaw, 1881-86
5...Roger Federer, 2003-07
5...Bjorn Borg, 1976-80
5...Laurence Doherty, 1902-06

15-15... Nadal might be hot on Federer's heels, but Federer is looking over Pete Sampras' shoulder, as well. As it stands, Federer's 11th slam title leaves him just three behind Sampras' all-time record of 14. He'll be the favorite at both the upcoming U.S. Open and Australian Open, so next spring and summer could be the time of "true" records being broken.

14...Pete Sampras
12...Roy Emerson
11...Roger Federer
11...Bjorn Borg
11...Rod Laver

Federer could very well go to Paris with the chance to match Sampras' mark and then break it at Wimbledon, or tie it at Wimbledon and break it in New York, with Sampras himself likely sitting in the Borg seat, watching from afar... unless, of course, Sampras' WTT participation and talk of a "curiosity" about Wimbledon are hints that he might desire to show up at the All-England Club as more than a spectator should Federer arrive in England with his record in his sights. Not likely... but a highly interesting thought to consider.

WOMEN'S DOUBLES FINAL: #2 Cara Black/Liezel Huber (ZIM/RSA) d. #4 Katarina Srebotnik/Ai Sugiyama (SLO/JPN) - 3-6/6-3/6-2.
....Black/Huber win their second slam title of the season, while Srebotnik falls to 0-3 in slam Doubles/Mixed slam finals in '07.

MEN'S DOUBLES FINAL: #10 Arnaud Clement/Michael Llodra (FRA/FRA) d. #1 Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan (USA/USA) - 6-7/6-3/6-4/6-4.
....Bryan & Bryan fail to defend their '06 crown, and the French finally win a Wimbledon title in a tournament in which they were at the center of so many big stories.

MIXED DOUBLES FINAL: Jelena Jankovic/Jamie Murray (SRB/GBR) d. #5 Alicia Molik/Jonas Bjorkman (AUS/SWE) - 6-4/3-6/6-1.
....Jelena gets her first career slam title, and the Brits get one, too.

GIRLS SINGLES FINAL: #6 Urszula Radwanska/POL d. Madison Brengle/USA - 2-6/6-3/6-0.
....U-Rad can now compare her Wimbledon Girls trophy with A-Rad's from 2005, and...

GIRLS DOUBLES FINAL: #1 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/Urszula Radwanska (RUS/POL) d. Misaki Doi/Kurumi Nara (JPN/JPN) - 6-4/2-6/[10-7].
....she's got a doubles trophy bookend for good measure, too.

BOYS SINGLES FINAL: #3 Donald Young/USA d. #1 Vladimir Ignatic/RUS - 7-5/6-1.
....Young ends his junior career with flair. Now comes the hard part.

BOYS DOUBLES FINAL: #7 Daniel Lopez/Matteo Trevisan (ITA/ITA) d. Roman Jebavy/Martin Klizan (CZE/SVK) - 7-6/4-6/[10-8].
....umm, not sure what to say here. How about, "Where's Kellen Damico?"

30-30... Cara Black's sixth career slam crown (and a QF result in Mixed) and third Doubles title at SW19 in the last four years (2004-05 & '07) wraps up the "Doubles Star" award, as she edges out Alicia Molik in the end.

2006 AO: Zi Yan/Jie Zheng (CHN/CHN)
2006 RG: Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur (USA/AUS)
2006 W: Zi Yan/Jie Zheng (CHN/CHN)
2006 US: Martina Navratilova (USA)
2007 AO: Liezel Huber (RSA)
2007 RG: Katarina Srebotnik (SLO)
2007 W: Cara Black (ZIM)

U-Rad's sweep of the Girls singles and doubles grabs the "Junior Breakout" honor:

AO: (16) Madison Brengle/USA (RU)
RG: (un) Mariana Duque Marino/COL (RU)
W: (6) Urszula Radwanska/POL (W)

Oh, and Venus Williams is the inaugural winner of the new Backspin Slam award of "Zombie Queen," in honor of being the player who appeared ready for the bone yard early in the tournament only to survive and live to tell great tales about it all.

TOP PLAYER: Venus Williams/USA
RISERS: Marion Bartoli/FRA & Alicia Molik/AUS
SURPRISES: Katarzyna Piter/POL & Anna Fitzpatrick/GBR
VETERAN: Venus Williams/USA & Cara Black & Liezel Huber (ZIM/RSA)
FRESH FACES Urszula Radwanska/POL & Madison Brengle/USA
DOWN: Justine Henin/BEL & Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur (USA/AUS)
MATCH: Singles SF - Bartoli d. Henin - 1-6/7-5/6-1..
....La Trufflette is born.

**ROGER vs. RAFA**
2004 Miami 3rd - Nadal (2 sets to 0)
2005 Miami Final - Federer (3-2)
2005 Roland Garros SF - Nadal (3-1)
2006 Dubai Final - Nadal (2-1)
2006 Monte Carlo Final - Nadal (3-1)
2006 Rome Final - Nadal (3-2)
2006 Roland Garros Final - Nadal (3-1)
2006 Wimbledon Final - Federer (3-1)
2006 Masters Cup SF - Federer (2-0)
2007 Monte Carlo Final - Nadal (2-0)
2007 Hamburg Final - Federer (2-1)
2007 Roland Garros Final - Nadal (3-1)
2007 Wimbledon Final - Federer (3-2)


ROUND OF 16: tied 95-95
SEMIFINALS: Backspin 49-48
FINALISTS: Backspin 21-18
CHAMPIONS: Backspin 7-5

MATCH, "Someone put this man back on TV"... if you blinked, you probably missed Bud Collins' inexcusable-but-hardly-unexpected don't-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out sendoff by NBC on Sunday. After time killer extraordinaire Jimmy Roberts spent two minutes talking about all the great things that Collins brought to tennis fans across the USA over the decades, the man himself got to speak about three sentences before he was given a pat on the back and plane ticket home.

Even on his final day with the network, the indignities continued. His post-match interviews of Federer & Nadal, which in the pre-Sue Barker on-court interview days, were the FIRST given by the finalists after they left the court, weren't shown by NBC until two hours after the match had been completed. Of course, Collins, being the tennis historian that he is, finally brought up the fact to Federer that someone other than he and/or Borg had actually won SIX Wimbledon titles in a row way back when. Way to go, Bud.

Even when some railed against Collins' match commentary for being shrill and loud, I know I always loved it. I grew up on the sport with it, and the penchant for Backspin nicknames was probably germinated in those years by Collins' flair for a unique moniker, from "Fraulein Forehand" for Steffi Graf and "Boom Boom" for Boris Becker. NBC's coverage has never been the same since his voice was marginalized. Now, with his ties to NBC mercifully severed by the network's choice, one hopes that from the myriad American outfits that provide grand slam coverage -- ESPN2, CBS, The Tennis Channel, and even NBC-owned USA -- at least one will see fit to give Collins the stage he still deserves, for however long he wishes to appear on it. His wit, wisdom and odd nuggets of history have been missed on American television, and even a small dose of them would be appreciated.

Funny, if NBC really thinks that Collins is the most important tennis journalist/personality in American media history, as Roberts said, then why has the network hidden him like a crazy aunt in the attic for the past few years? And even worse, doing so while at the same time hoisting Roberts' "grand wisdom" on viewers seemingly because Bob Costas -- the only player on the network's roster who might be able to pull off the self-important, resident sage role, which fits Roberts like a man's suit on a 10-year old, without failing miserably -- is too busy to spend two weeks in London during baseball season.

One can only wonder. Collins deserved better.

TOP QUALIFIERS: Su-Wei Hsieh/TPE & Olga Govortsova/BLR
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Amelie Mauresmo/FRA
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): Justine Henin/BEL
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): Venus Williams/USA
FIRST SEED OUT: #30 Olga Poutchkova/RUS (1r-E.Vesnina/RUS)
UPSET QUEENS: Austrians (Paszek & Meusburger)
REVELATION LADIES: French (Bartoli & Rezai to 3rd Rd.)
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Olga Govortsova/BLR, Nika Ozegovic/CRO, Tatiana Perebiynis/UKR, Hana Sromova/CZE & Agnes Szavay/HUN (2nd Rd.)
IT GIRL: Ana Ivanovic/SRB
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Venus Williams/USA
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: Urszula Radwanska/POL

All for now.


COMING SOON: Grasscourt Awards & Backspin Volley


Blogger Eric said...

don't forget sisters sledgehammer :)

Mon Jul 09, 12:44:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

"I know this withdrawal is very frustrating for all my Russian fans, but I promise you it is way more frustrating for me," Sharapova said. "Nothing would (have) made me happier than beating the Americans on American soil." Maria Sharapova on withdrawing from Fed Cup 071007

todd, does that not bother you at all?

she freaking lives on american soil

if she feels that way, she should go back to russia


Tue Jul 10, 09:39:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, but you have to remember that a lot of the Russians have a hard time considering her really "Russian" since she's so "Americanized" (I think I called her "AmeRussian" a few years ago), thus she has to say things like that to make sure they know she's one of them. :)

Wed Jul 11, 05:19:00 PM EDT  

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