Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - W: Report Cards
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W: Report Cards 07/08/2008 - 9:53 PM

RnWhen it was all over, when the only thing left to do was watch Brad Gilbert stand up, touchingly and awkwardly, and applaud for Rafael Nadal in the ESPN studios, I slouched back into the couch cushions, still sweating a little, and said, aloud, to no one: “Now I have to describe this?” Was it possible to do this match justice? Was it possible to give it a grade?

A few minutes later Nadal appeared in the pressroom. He was asked how he felt about his victory over Roger Federer, on Centre Court, after five hours and as many match points, 9-7 in the fifth set, with darkness surrounding him, for his first Wimbledon title. He answered in the only way that made any kind of sense: “Impossible to describe.” I thought: You’re right, Rafa, but you’re not helping.

It’s his job to play and mine to write. And can a tennis writer ask for anything better to write about than what happened at Wimbledon this past weekend? Let the A-pluses flow.

Rafael Nadal
The image of Nadal from Sunday that comes to my mind first is not of him pumping his fist, screaming “vamos!” or belting an inside-out forehand winner, though it’s easy to recall one of those if necessary. It’s of him holding the winner’s trophy in the dark on Centre Court, his face and the top of his white jacket lit up by a hundred flashbulbs, his headband gone and hair loose. This was a new Nadal. In the blink of an eye, he’d shed the pirate look and the beast of Mallorca image and taken on the bearing and style of a Wimbledon champion—albeit one who isn't above biting the trophy. He was no longer the world’s greatest No. 2, no longer the hard-working second-fiddle, no longer destined to be mentioned after the words those grand words, “Roger Federer.” Nadal is now part of the sport’s history and tradition in his own right. That’s what happens when you win on Centre Court. It’s why the all-time greats like Federer and Pete Sampras love this place the most—it made them. I could imagine seeing this photo of Rafa in 30 years, in the parade of Wimbledon champions from Jack Kramer to Roger Federer. “The Spanish great Nadal at Wimbledon,” the caption would read.

I said coming into Wimbledon that Nadal had a new aura about him, a No. 1-player’s aura, and he maintained it right until the end. Or almost until the end. He was the better player in the final, particularly once the rallies began, and could have won in straight sets. But like last year, he got tight at the finish line. Up two sets and tied at 3-3 in the third, Nadal played brilliantly to reach 0-40 on Federer’s serve. He may have let a brief vision of himself holding the trophy pass through his disciplined mind, because suddenly he couldn’t get the ball over the net, even on a forehand return of a second serve. Federer came back to hold, found his rhythm on his serve and forehand, and matched Nadal shot for shot the rest of the way.

Nadal got himself back to the brink again in the fourth set, only to suffer the same last-second nerves. Up 5-2 in the tiebreaker, with two serves coming, he double-faulted and dumped a routine backhand into the net. After the second shot, he showed one of the few traces of anger he would betray all afternoon, whipping his racquet like a fly-swatter. Again he pushed back to the brink, hitting one of the many, many shots of the match, a thread-the-needle forehand pass after a mad dash across the baseline. That brought him to match point, where he went with the percentages—swing serve to Federer’s backhand, swing approach to the same spot—and was beaten by Federer’s own thread-the-needle backhand pass into the corner.

At this point, Nadal could have been forgiven for wondering, Am I meant to win Wimbledon? As Nadal’s last return floated long to end the fourth set, I thought we may finally have discovered a weakness, a chink in the mental armor: Faced with the prospect of fulfilling his dream of winning the world’s biggest tournament, Nadal couldn’t close the deal. A couple points into the fifth set, I knew we'd found no such thing. Nadal came out and hit his first few backhands with the same gusto and confidence he’d shown on that shot all afternoon. By the time he’d held for 1-1, the fist-pumps were back. Somehow, the fact that his lifelong dreams had been horribly, cruelly crushed a few minutes earlier had been utterly forgotten.

The classic example of ice-in-the-veins willpower in tennis is Bjorn Borg’s victory in the fifth set of the 1980 Wimbledon final, after he had squandered multiple match points in the 18-16 fourth-set tiebreaker. His opponent that day, John McEnroe, has often wondered how Borg was capable of staying in the moment. Nadal’s achievement, while almost identical (this tiebreaker was 10-8 but equally heartbreaking), surpasses Borg’s for the simple fact that the Swede got to serve first in that fifth set, while Nadal had to serve second.

This is the equivalent of being the away team in extra innings in baseball. When you have to serve to stay in the match, you’re always just a couple of bad swings away from defeat. Nadal faced one break point in the final set, at 3-4. He took Federer’s return and drilled an inside-out forehand into the corner, then finished with an overhead and a fist-pump. Dick Enberg chuckled at the chutzpah: “Nadal has the guts of a daylight burglar,” he said. The term was apt: If he misses that go-for-broke forehand, he’s most likely just lost the Wimbledon final. He didn’t miss it. In the end, the match that I thought might reveal the limits of Nadal’s mental resources revealed the opposite. He had even more—more willpower in the head, more ice in the veins—than we knew.

What does Nadal’s win represent? Think back to David Foster Wallace’s allegedly brilliant essay from the NY Times two years ago, "Roger Federer as Religious Experience." I’ve brought this piece up before, but it’s worth revisiting because it’s representative of an attitude among traditionalist tennis aficionados, in my opinion. The setting was the 2006 Wimbledon final. Foster Wallace cast the calm, free-flowing, instinctive Federer as the modern-day manifestation of tennis genius. Nadal was summed up, in derogatory fashion, as a “martial” player, limited and earthbound compared to Federer. Could this article appear in a major publication and be lauded the same way now, after Sunday’s final? I don’t think so. Nadal has shown that tennis genius doesn’t have to be cool and free-flowing. It can be martial. It can be grinding. It can grunt. It can be unorthodox rather than elegant. It can have its roots in the grungy clay-court game yet still conquer the genteel grass version. It can wear pirate pants rather than cardigans. It can be all those things and still make you shake your head in awe, just as we do with Federer.

Think about the final game of the match, when Nadal attempted, after all the earlier failures and with the light speedily dimming, to serve it out at 8-7. He nervously sent his first forehand long. On the next point, he hit a serve wide, and, for the first time all match, followed it to the net, where he knocked off an easy volley. From some players, you might call this a bailout option, a way to avoid a nerve-wracking rally. From Nadal, it was the opposite: He saw that when he was trying to finish the match, the dynamics of the points were working against him—he was getting tight, playing the percentages, playing not to lose. So he changed the dynamic. It was a simple and gutsy—instinctive—move. If there’s such a thing as tennis genius, this was it.

What would a genius be without a little luck to help? On the final point, Nadal looked tight again as he popped a sitter backhand to Federer’s service line. It looked like a sure opportunity for Federer, and he closed on the ball. But it wasn’t where he thought it was going to be. It had taken a weird bounce and jumped right. Federer mistimed it and hit it weakly into the net. In the end, Nadal had triumphed on grass the old-fashioned way—with a bad hop.

I interviewed Nadal at Key Biscayne in 2006. He was antsy and guarded most of the time. But when I asked about Wimbledon, he became vehement. He made a fist and said, “I will do well at Wimbledon.” The year before, he had lost in the second round to Gilles Muller. I didn’t believe that this Spanish clay-courter would ever do much on grass. What I didn't know was that winning on clay, where he was supposed to win, didn’t get to the bottom of Rafael Nadal. He wanted to be a tennis champion. That meant winning on Centre Court. The photo proves it: He’s a tennis champion. A+

Men’s Final
Was this the greatest match of all time? SI’s Jon Wertheim had an unintentionally funny line when he was interviewed about it on the PBS Newshour yesterday. He said, “I’m usually pretty level-headed about these things, but I’m going to say unequivocally that this was the greatest match in tennis history.” I know what he means.

Rn2What are the elements that go into “greatest” matches? First there’s the level of play. The highest-quality match I had ever seen before yesterday was the 2007 Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal. This beat it. By a lot. The winner to error ratios, particularly Nadal’s, were excellent, and Federer served like a dream. But it was the shots that didn’t become winners that were even more remarkable. So many balls that would have screamed past anyone else were returned, with authority. You won’t find them on the stat sheet.

It was tough to tell the opening of the first set from the closing of the fifth. At both times, Federer and Nadal were running full out and playing forcefully. It was go-for-broke tennis, but within intelligent limits; rallies consisted of a short series of probing jabs, quick moves up and back, and then a haymaker to end it. If one guy left a ball hanging, the other rifled it toward a corner every time. Nadal has improved his backhand from last year. He slaps through it with more flat pace than he gets on his forehand. Federer not only couldn’t break it down, he couldn’t push Nadal into his backhand corner and open up the court. Nadal played a version of the game he uses against Federer on clay, but he was more willing to go into the forehand corner and take risks even when he wasn’t positioned near the center of the court. He mixed up his serve constantly, and went to the body at the right moments. As for Federer, he started slowly but gained traction by giving a master class in grass-court tennis over the last three sets. Wide serve, forehand into open court: This is the modern equivalent of the serve and volley, and no one does it as effectively as Federer. He seems to love serving on Centre Court more than anywhere else.

Beyond the basics of tactics and execution, it was the style with which these two played that raised the match still further. Borg vs. McEnroe in 1980 was a long series of forays and angles; Sampras vs. Ivanisevic in 1998 was a long series of serves bulleted into the frames of the returners; Federer vs. Nadal was a series of topspin missiles that bent and dove in midair and landed in the farthest reaches of the court. For all their differences, if you just watched their strokes and the paths their shots took, you’d have a hard time telling who had hit what. Both swing with a violent upward motion around the head that carries their bodies off the ground. This co-style is how tennis circa 2008 will be remembered.

Of course, it’s the differences that made the match worth watching. Federer’s characteristic winner was a seemingly impossible forehand that he hit inside-out while floating away from the ball. A remarkable shot, since he gets almost none of his body into it. (In his own way, Federer blows up the textbook every bit as much as his opponent.) Nadal’s version of this shot was the crosscourt backhand that he consistently hammered with a completely open stance and his upper body jerked downward, in the opposite direction of the ball. He used this for offense, and also as a sort of goalie-style defensive shot when Federer sent a hard approach down the middle. In both cases, his control with it was uncanny.

In a “greatest” match, the high-quality play must be backed up with drama, personality, history. We had plenty of all three. The personalities and body languages, as always, were polar opposites: Nadal bustled around the court between points, chest out, brows furrowed; Federer leaned back as he flipped his feet in front of him with casual assurance. The history was tied to the same legend, Bjorn Borg, who was sitting in the stands: Federer was trying to break Borg’s modern record of five straight Wimbledons; Nadal was trying to become the first man since the Swede to win the French and Wimbledon back to back. As for drama, it was heightened by the race against encroaching darkness, which lent a wild edge to the end of the fifth set. This match would always have been a classic, but the flash-bulbs that peppered the dusky trophy ceremony ensure that it will be instantly recognizable in the future, its atmosphere as unique as its shot-making.

Then we came to the end. Nadal’s celebration—a helpless, painfully relieved fall to his back, with his legs and arms splayed—was electric. You felt like he was at the center of a current that was circling Centre Court and exploding in flash photos. But there are two moments I’ll remember just as much at that. Before the final point, Nadal’s Uncle Toni finally couldn’t take it anymore. He had to get out of his seat and move down to the front row of the player’s box. He lifted his arm and gestured to his nephew to do it now. The spontaneity and urgency of that gesture captured the excruciating nature of the moment. After the final point, when Federer put the last ball into the net and Nadal hit the dirt, you could see Roger Federer’s father, Robert, proudly sporting his son’s red RF logo hat, immediately stand to clap. He kept clapping as Nadal climbed the player’s box, crushingly hugged his parents and Uncle Toni, and stamped past the Federer entourage to shake hands with Federer’s agent, Tony Godsick. Would you think less of me if I told you I had a tear—or two, or three—in my eye, for Rafa, for Robert Federer, for Uncle Toni, for Mirka, who touched Nadal’s leg as he walked past, and for Mr. and Mrs. Nadal, who sat tormented for seven hours before they could let it out? In what other sport, in what other arena, on what other night, would you see anything like this?

Greatest ever, by a mile. A+

VwVenus Williams
Poor Venus. She rolls through the draw for a second straight year, doesn’t lose a set, and handles a difficult win over her sister in the final with easy dignity. Then everyone forgets all about it 24 hours later. Don’t: This was not just a customarily imperious and focused effort from Venus—the sight of her crazy legs gobbling up ground along the baseline is now as much a part of Centre Court lore as the sight of Pete Sampras bombing aces there—it also felt like a landmark in how the Williamses handle playing each other. It was winner-take-all competition and sibling rivalry at its most adult. The edges, and the awkwardness, weren't as obvious. I wonder: We say it's hard for them to compete because they love each other, but isn't your sibling also the person you want to beat more than anyone else in the world? Has this edge been dulled in Serena over the years?

Either way, it was the best match they’ve played—not a classic contest, but a compelling one. Venus weathered an early Serena storm calmly, and took control of the match methodically. I’ve always thought their matches can be scratchy in part because each runs down shots that would be winners against anyone else. That leads to extra shots and, eventually, errors. This time, little sister looked she had nowhere good to go with the ball by the end. A+

Roger Federer
For a world No. 1 and five-time defending champion, Federer looked oddly aggrieved through much of his final against Nadal. HawkEye had it in for him, the chair umpire annoyed him, a Nadal shot that landed inside the line inspired a wild, hopeless challenge. The force of Nadal’s momentum over the last few months seemed to have put doubt in Federer's mind, and he wasn’t happy about it—why should he, Roger Federer, doubt himself on Centre Court against anybody? But he did. You could see it in the way his shots on break points found the net. You could see it in the way he quickly surrendered a 4-2 lead in the second set and lost four straight games. That just doesn’t happen to him against anyone else.

Which makes his stubborn comeback effort all the more impressive. Federer, as he said afterward, “tried everything.” But he was playing a guy who could match him, jaw-dropping winner for jaw-dropping winner, and who was using his tricky serve to keep him terminally off-balance. Late in the fifth set, Federer opened a return game by hitting a forehand winner down the line. It was an intimidating shot that might have rattled another player. Two points later, Nadal cracked his own, equally intimidating forehand winner and eventually held. Against everyone else, Federer can, and does, assume a natural superiority; he knows he’s better, and that if he plays well, he’ll win. He can’t assume this against Nadal. He has to start on equivalent mental footing with the Spaniard. This leaves Federer, as I said, a little aggrieved and unsure of himself.

Federer was a good loser. He looked gutted and exhausted when he talked to Sue Barker, his hair uncharacteristically sweaty and lank, a far cry from the ebullient winner in the white jacket of previous years. We might have wished that he hadn’t mentioned how dark it was and that the conditions were tough—they were for both guys—but Federer managed to keep it light when he said he played the “worst” opponent on the “best surface.” To ask for perfect grace and no trace of bitterness from him at this moment would be to ask too much.

Federer showed off the runner’s-up plate with surprising, classy enthusiasm, and walked around the court waving as if he were still the champ. What’s that Kipling line we hear so much about at Wimbledon: “If you can meet triumph and disaster and treat them just the same…”? On Sunday, Federer came as close as anyone could expect to living up to that brutal ideal. A

RfThe Cardigan
I began by hating it, especially the big RF monogram. But on Centre Court, after the match, as Federer tried to hide his crushing disappointment, it worked. This is the traditional outfit of the tennis gentleman. And the gentleman, as Kipling says, defines himself by how he handles defeat. Whatever Federer was thinking on the inside, he looked sporting on the outside. A

Serena Williams
She had another Grand Slam resurgence. Let’s hope it lasts. My lasting memory of her will be one of confusion. She couldn’t find the key to beating her sister, and she couldn’t quite believe she was losing. She was flummoxed—by the wind, by the slippery surface,, by Venus, who made her hit better shots than she normally has to and pushed her out of her comfort zone at the middle of the baseline. Even in the trophy ceremony, as her sister was singing her praises, Serena looked distracted, squinting blankly and unsmilingly into her second-place plate. A-

Marat Safin
He showed he still can command the big stage now and then, but, unlike the two finalists, he doesn’t have the ambition to make Centre Court his home. He’s got everything else, and seeing—hearing—that old fabulous backhand walloped down the line again made the tournament a little more fun. A-

Brad Gilbert
I didn’t see much of him, so he couldn’t become grating. But how can you not like a guy, who, right after a 9-7 fifth-set final, states that it will not be Federer who breaks Sampras’ record of 14 Slams, it will be Nadal. Never mind that Gilbert once said Federer would win 20 Slams and recently gave TENNIS Magazine three reasons why Nadal wouldn’t win this year’s French Open. He's a man with big ideas, even if they can be a little hare-brained. A-

Dick Enberg/Patrick McEnroe
The best call of the final was by these guys, for ESPN Classic. Not too much talk, and a couple of good lines from Enberg, who called the match what it was: “excruciatingly entertaining.” A-

Bjorn Borg
The tie, the shirt, the unflappable demaeanor: The guy’s as good at watching as he was playing. Let’s bring him to Flushing Meadows, even if he can't stand the place. A-

Jie Zheng
Enjoyed her short, sharp, low to the ground grass game, even if I won’t see it again until next year’s Wimbledon. A-

Agnieszka Radwanska
Watch the smooth ground strokes, smile at the transparent facial expressions, remember the name, no matter how you pronounce it in your head. B+

Andy Murray
Has the teeth-barer turned a corner and begun to rein in his disorganized game? I’m going to say yes, even though he reigned it in too far against Nadal. The match with Gasquet was hilarious. B+

Chris Fowler
He tries too hard when he calls matches, but he’s a pro in the studio, and I thought ESPN’s post-final wrap was solid and entertaining. It did justice, with a little wackiness thrown in, to the match that had just been played. B+

Amelie Mauresmo
We’ll miss when you go. B+

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
We welcome you, if you want to stay. B

John McEnroe
I thought he had an off day on Sunday. He’s always low-key, but this time he seemed to be restating the obvious more often than usual. Still, I wouldn’t want to hear anyone else call Federer-Nadal. B

OK, I can’t write any more at the moment. I’ll have to say good night to the best fortnight—or at least the best final two days of a fortnight—I can remember.

Who did I forget? Who deserved an F?


 
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Comments
 
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Posted by Anjali 07/08/2008 at 10:21 PM

Hey Steve,

Interesting report card. Though, would have liked to hear more of your thoughts about the AFTERMATH of this victory---both for Nadal and Federer. As you mention, everyone now thinks Nadal is the magic figure to revive tennis. What about Mr. Arrogance himself, the Djoker?

Also, not that I am a big fan of the Bryan brothers or Andy Roddick or James Blake (please, this isn't an anti-American thang---we love the Williams sisters!), but what do you make of their exits? Especially the Bryan brothers who've taken to losing quite regularly these days?

Ta

Posted by Cary 07/08/2008 at 10:27 PM

I would say Roddick deserves an F. Blake, Tursunov, and Tipsarevic all deserve D's for failing to capitalize on their opportunities to go deep in the tournament. I would give Gasquet a B- for showing us some better form, and I would give Ancic an A- for his great efforts (including the fantastic match with Verdasco).

Posted by Skw 07/08/2008 at 10:35 PM

Tracy Austin --- F (needs voice training)

Luke Jensen --- D (too much fawning)

3/4 of the WTA Tour --F (for not playing warm up tourneys and giving people a reason to bad mouth the tour).

Elena D. --- D (She needs to remove the phrase 'family decision' from her vocabulary).

Justine Henin ---A (A for Absent, as well as for being right about who would win).


Posted by .com 07/08/2008 at 10:37 PM

Wow, just one of the best articles I have read about this Wimbledon (and I have read like millions of them).

Posted by Ren 07/08/2008 at 10:37 PM

I have been waiting for this. Thank you for not forgetting the Williams match. It almost went to oblivion.

Posted by Phoebe 07/08/2008 at 10:43 PM

Great write-up, Steve. Thank you for mentioning Robert Federer. Although I'm a passionate Rafa fan, my favorite moment of the match may very well be when Roger's father realized that Rafa was on his way to the family box. He turned to get the attention of the jubilant and slightly distracted Nadal family to make sure they knew that Rafa was climbing up. Then Mr. Federer clapped and genuinely smiled to see the emotion displayed before him. Utterly classy. Unlike anything I've ever seen.

Posted by dnrood 07/08/2008 at 10:59 PM

Steve, well articulated and I don't envy you having to put into words what we saw on Sunday. I think my best efforts would have have been a page with a huge WOW! across it.

As a Rafa fan I think you captured how us fans feel about his performance. It was clutch and nerves all in one. It was beauty mixed with a down and dirty game. Your mention of him having to play from behind throughout the final set should not be understated. He overcame the momentum Roger got from the fourth set tie break, his jangly nerves and having to hold his serve throughout the final set. I knew the kid had grit and heart but I think he surpassed even what I thought were his limits.

You may have been a little hard on Roger. I give him an A+. Throughout the tournament his serve was Sampras like and he didn't drop a set till the final. Most importantly he showed a champions heart and will to win in that final. It is not hard to see him being the victor in this match and his grace under the circumstances was outstanding.

Bravo to these two players and the match we witnessed on Sunday.

Posted by Sundance 07/08/2008 at 10:59 PM

Absolutely brilliant piece! It captures the essence of the whole day in all its complexity, grit, spirit and splendor. Of all the commentaries written on the match, yours has resonated with me the most. Thanks!

Posted by 07/08/2008 at 11:40 PM

Great Piece!
Nadal in a nutshell..."He’s a tennis champion."

Posted by Syd 07/08/2008 at 11:41 PM

Excellent piece Steve—thanks.

Just a few quibbles:

A for McEnroe. As you said, who else would you have wanted to call the match.

And the same marks for Seppi, as for Safin, because they played one hell of a match.

Brad Gilbert: Do not like that comment. He blows which ever way his thinks the wind is blowing.

Posted by susie 07/08/2008 at 11:57 PM

roger definately deserves an A+
natalie dechy deserves an A for almost knocking out ana Ivanovic. very close game
clement- B+
Schuttler- A-
Roddick- F
laura robson- A


Posted by Young guns 07/08/2008 at 11:57 PM

i'm hoping that one of the following win the USO.
Djokovic, Murray, Gulbis, Monfils

Enough with Roger and Rafa!

Posted by gerty 07/08/2008 at 11:59 PM

"for Rafa, for Robert Federer, for Uncle Toni, for Mirka...", but no tear for federer, of course.

"To ask for perfect grace and no trace of bitterness from him at this moment would be to ask too much." Listen to yourself, can you get any more picky?

Posted by Calvin Nguyen 07/09/2008 at 12:01 AM

Great writing Steve. I was sitting on pins and needles the whole time.

Posted by 07/09/2008 at 12:05 AM

Great-great piece!

I would bump up Chris Fowler to at least an A-. I read that he normally does NFL and has spread into tennis. Maybe he tries too hard but he is trying and I really like him the studio (it may even be a border crush).

John Mac - He gets an A. I remembered his on-court interview after the French and was looking for it after this match and he delivered!

There are several who deserve F's but I am certain they know who they are so I won't list them. Except of course that certain someone who was THE negative that consistently overshadowed the Championships. He retired as a player last year and is now a commentator for TC and used to write for SI (is it true that he is no longer there?). I won't write his name as it will be a stain on your excellent piece.

Thank you!

Posted by Sher 07/09/2008 at 12:15 AM

>Who did I forget? Who deserved an F?


Starts with a G ends with a stop? :P

Posted by Sher 07/09/2008 at 12:21 AM

By mentioning the darkness (omg what is up with that? he was asked three times about it by the reporters! he said he didn't want to talk about it twice!) you _are_ asking for him to be perfect, aren't you?

Good post otherwise, Steve.

Posted by jungleboy 07/09/2008 at 12:32 AM

I reckon an A* (star) would be more suitable for the final.

Posted by weatherman 07/09/2008 at 12:34 AM

Davydenko-F, for playing a clay-court warm up and going out first or second round, not sure which.

Posted by MZK 07/09/2008 at 12:38 AM

Thanks, Steve. Glad you got around to weighing in because I think you have a knack for pulling everything together with insight and perspective. It helps that I end up agreeing with you 95% of the time as well. ;)

Agreed on Johnny Mac. He was actually a bit motormouth and banal for my tastes for the first couple of sets, which is rare for him, but by the end he had the credibility and vantage point to really sum up the historic nature of the match. His post-match interviews were also solid, and having dethroned Borg as five-time champion himself, he lent even more poignance to an awards ceremony that already had plenty.

Gilbert, however, drives me nuts. He'll say anything to make a splash. I will give him credit for pegging Nadal to win Wimbledon back in 2006, when it seemed an absurd proposition.

Posted by sheshe 07/09/2008 at 12:45 AM

Steve, nice article..Can not deny I was hoping for more admiration and respect from you for Federer..But again it seems to be the norm from you and Bodo..I can only try to muster that you guys are SICK of Federer and ready for the New Stuff...Really, as a experienced Tennis editor, you do not give Federer (The 5 time Champ) more respect??? Or at the most Consideration??? He was in that 5 Hour match with as much Guts and Mental Power as Nadal point for point..He Gave As Much...Nadal was POSSESSED to DO IT THIS TIME NO MATTER WHAT IT TOOK> Federer fought to the END like a Champion...One player would get Lucky with the final point. It was Nadal . HE GOT LUCKY...Everyone Saw It. What gets me is you Sports writers Do not want to acknowledge it. WHY????? Are you just selling stories?? Because I'm starting to not want to read them.

Posted by Mary C. 07/09/2008 at 12:52 AM

I have never been so irritated with the constant talking - just talking - instead of commentating on what was happening in the court at that instant. Hearing McEnroe's dronning grew so irritating that I finally turned the sound off and just watched that superb match. This is not just a gripe to be gripeing. Can't someone put a bug in McEnroe's ear? I'm tired of hearing of his history and his personal stories again and again and again. Am I alone on this?
Mary

Posted by OKToo 07/09/2008 at 12:55 AM

Who deserves an F? How about Djokovic? All talk.

Posted by Russ (Back in Blue) 07/09/2008 at 12:58 AM

Thank you so much for doing this... I always look forward to it, whether I agree or not.

Notable omissions:

Djokovic? I'd give him an F. For saying it, but not bringing it.

Federer? This is quibbling, but if ever a player deserved an A+ in defeat, it is he.

Roddick? D for not making out of an easy quarter.

Davydenko? D for not making it out of an easy quarter, and probably playing another tournament after he was eliminated from Wimby, and likely another one before Nadal finished off Fed.

Tipsy? B for upsetting Roddick at least.

Posted by 07/09/2008 at 01:09 AM

Nadal doesn't deserver an A+ for his time violation between points alone, but of course people on team Nadal like you would ignore it.

Rules are there for a reason. Once he becomes No.1 he might never even getting a warning for it. So sad.

Posted by london 07/09/2008 at 01:25 AM

sharapova: F, more talk was about her outfit than her chances at winning. oh yea, she also didn't get to show off that little outfit for long either. she also lost to someone ranked 154.

Posted by GS 07/09/2008 at 01:44 AM

Good article, Steve. Totally agree with you on Borg, and on Federer's outfit at the trophy presentation. I had no feelings about his clothes prior to that, but it brought back some nostalgia for me -- I have black and white photos of my dad and my late grandfather looking like that on a tennis court.

Who deserved an F?

Ted Robinson for endless talking. Sue Barker (I think) had started introducing the trophy ceremony and TR was still babbling on. (And his voice isn't pretty either -- give me Chris Fowler anyday.) He did this at the French Open too, where, even if most of us listening in the US don't speak French, we'd still like to feel as if we were watching the event live, not living through TR's voice and eyes.

ESPN and NBC for the most confusing (at least here in CA -- the TV guides and papers could not agree on a starting time!) and inadequate coverage and collaboration

ESPN's very strange scoreboard displays at the top of the screen

Djokovic -- too tired to play, not too tired to trash talk

The A pluses on the other hand to...

Laura Robson -- What a charmer!

Jonas Bjorkman -- for years of great play, great sportsmanship and a great sense of humour long before Djokovic came along with his imitations.

Oracene Williams, along with the Federer parents. Always good sports, all of them, always gracious and actually looking like they enjoy their children and their matches, unlike certain Russian fathers... well, you know!

All non-grunting/shrieking players who don't fist pump starting at 15-0 in the first game of the match

Posted by mcakron 07/09/2008 at 01:52 AM

Not to be the dark cloud here, and maybe my post would be better served on another thread, but what if Djokovic wins the USO? Would it in any way mitigate the historical context of the Wimbeldon final? Just asking.

Certainly, wouldn't change the "Fed Reign Over" storylines but it might call into question the crowning of Nadal as the new king. I'm no fan of the Djoker, but he's a damn impressive on the hardcourts. Right now I'd install him as the early favorite, if only by a Serbian hair.

Couple of thoughts about the article: I, too, noticed Federer's father standing and clapping for Rafa and his family. Class personified -- and shows that the apple didn't fall far from the tree. And yes, like most readers/watchers, can't say enough about such two fierce rivals who exhibit such class (Fed) and humility (Rafa). Everyone remembers McEnroe's boorish behavior, but does anyone remember Connors post-match interviews during his 70's heyday? The man would sooner jump from the Brooklyn Bridge than give his competitors any credit. I remember in particular when after Borg had smoked him in the '78 Wimbeldon final something like 2, 2, and 3, Connors basically said, "He didn't do anything special. I just played lousy." Oh well, maybe it's good to have those guys in the game too. If nothing else throws greater light on the sportsmanship of guys like Federer and Nadal.

In terms of Fowler, I like him. Yes, he's more comfortable in the studio than the booth, but it's nice to have a fresh play-by-play guy. I'm okay with Robinson, but not a huge fan of Drysdale and Enberg absolutely HAS to go. The latter's "oh my" cuddly observations are often nothing short of loathsome. And I thought his Depends would leak when he did that master of ceremonies turn during the trophy presentation after last year's USO. What an embarrassment.

P.S. Gilbert's the court jester and is capable of ridiculous pronouncements. That said, I like his sense of humor, and I appreciate the fact he's willing to be irreverent and call a match or a player's effort a joke when it's deserving of the call.

Posted by bobby 07/09/2008 at 01:53 AM

Rafa defenitely deserves to be the champion.Salute to both Rafa and Roger for giving us a super final.I wish both of them remain in their prime for many more years to come and repeat such matches.

Posted by mcakron 07/09/2008 at 02:06 AM

Oh yeah, and GS is exactly right. What the HELL was with those scoreboard displays at the top of ESPN's screen? Half the time I couldn't figure out who the F was ahead in the match. Who was the Genghis who green-lighted that little visual in pre-production meetings? Some "New Coke" casualty from back in the 80's?

Posted by OKToo 07/09/2008 at 02:07 AM

Anonymous poster 1:09AM
Sour grapes taste better with w(h)ine.

Posted by Scruggs 07/09/2008 at 02:28 AM

Great article! Personally I would give Federer and A+. To be honest, I did not really like him for a while, but this superb match and his utmost grace in his lost really changed my mind. I don't see why people have to get all uppity about congratulating Nadal on a hard-fought win, claiming that this is somehow disrespectful to Fed. On the contrary, they both showed the best tennis that is being played these days, and they were both very classy.

I know it's been said, but it bears repeating: Djokovic deserves the F. He will probably do better back at the hardcourts, but he needs to spend more time practicing and less time trash talking. I don't hate him as some do, but I do think he needs to reign himself in. Oh, and stop bouncing that ball so many times!

I'd personally give Safin a C, for getting the upset against Djokovic and then hardly putting up a fight against Fed.

I didn't really mind McEnroe's talking. I guess I can tune it out when it gets to be too much. But I thought he drew that post-match interview with the visibly upset Federer a little too long, and tried to make up for it with a hug that just seemed kind of ridiculous. Oh well, at least he tried.

Posted by Scruggs 07/09/2008 at 02:35 AM

Err, I meant "in his loss." That's what I get for not previewing...

Posted by Zeitgeist 07/09/2008 at 02:47 AM

F for the referee in the final: if Nadal was taking too much time he should have warned him at the beggining.
But to warn Nadal when serving for the set when the routine was exactly the same as on any other previous serve wasn't right.

F for Murray for using the crowd against Gasquet.

D for everyone who can´t close a match after leading 2 sets to 0.

Posted by Rasmus 07/09/2008 at 02:51 AM

mcakron: Djokovic winning the USO doesn't diminish Wimbledon 2008 one bit. IF he wins it, it's no big deal - Federer accomplish the AO-US double just the previous year. Nadal, on the other hand, accomplished something that hasn't been done since 20+ years ago. If Djokovic wins USO, it'll just make the race to the number 1 spot more intriguing, IMHO.

Will it further fuel the "Fed is over" talk? Absolutely... regardless whether the talk is true or not (unfortunately).

Posted by Ren 07/09/2008 at 03:05 AM

With all these grades, I think Gulbis deserves a grade. I will give him an A. He had a good match with Nadal (where he hurt his knee). Had he faced another player , Gulbis could have gone a longer way. He was a marvel to watch, that boy!

Posted by Monica 07/09/2008 at 03:07 AM

Spot on, Steve. This is both an inspired and a sober analysis, IMHO. I think you forgot Roger's mother, though. She was clapping Nadal heartily when he went to shake the hand of that guy standing next to her (who is he, btw?). I was thinking of the parents, both Rafa's and Roger's, the whole time. I remember they all shook hands very cordially last year after the final. But I'm super impressed by Robert and Lynette this year. Thanks for the observation about Mirka. Glad to hear she was a good sport, too, as from the picture she seems to be the only one sitting down and not clapping.

Posted by Monica 07/09/2008 at 03:07 AM

Spot on, Steve. This is both an inspired and a sober analysis, IMHO. I think you forgot Roger's mother, though. She was clapping Nadal heartily when he went to shake the hand of that guy standing next to her (who is he, btw?). I was thinking of the parents, both Rafa's and Roger's, the whole time. I remember they all shook hands very cordially last year after the final. But I'm super impressed by Robert and Lynette this year. Thanks for the observation about Mirka. Glad to hear she was a good sport, too, as from the picture she seems to be the only one sitting down and not clapping.

Posted by GRADES 07/09/2008 at 03:12 AM

To SheShe at 12:45AM.

You said Nadal got lucky at the end. I'd say Federer got a lot more luck in this game (the rain delay, the triple break point 0-40 against Federer in 3rd set, the 5-2 Nadal-Fed lead in tie breaker in 4th set) just to name a few. In my opinion, Federer was lucky that he didn't LOSE in straight sets!

Also, Federer was serving first in the 5th set -- that should have given Federer an edge (he even SAID that)! So NO, NO, luck had nothing to do with it -- Nadal has earned it so please don't cheapen Nadal's hard fought battle to luck!

Also, I think:
Djoker F
Sharapova F
Ivanovic D
Roddick D
Davydenko F
Bryan Brothers C

Posted by 07/09/2008 at 03:16 AM

Monica at 3:07AM

Yes I agreed w/ you about picture of Mirka: she wasn't applauding Nadal's victory. She had her hands folded against the rails in deject as Nadal climbed up to the box . She was "obligated" to "pull" on Nadal's leg because of what Federer's parents were doing "applauding". I can understand her reaction, but I just to be sure that she didn't do it genuinely at first (at least I don't think so)!!!

Posted by hmm 07/09/2008 at 03:32 AM

I dont think this was as good as it could of been for the simple reason Federer was not taking any of those break points he had - that to me says the boogyman of Nadal has become mental issue.

He fought well as he said himself but for someone as good as him not to be able to take the numerous break points he had in that match to me doesnt justify how good it could of been.

It had drama it had tension but it did not have Federer at his best apart from on serve which - is ironically what kept him the match .

I dont know if Federer can break the cycle of Nadal given how bad his backhand was most of the time but I also wouldnt bet on Nadal being the new no 1 too soon.

Yes hes deserving by far if anyone should be, it should be him but I also feel still that the hardcourts / indoor vs body might
make this a tall order .

Maybe Im wrong and he go on blinder the next 2 -3 yrs and surpass sampras's slams but realisitcally what I see now is joint no 1 with an ailing Federer who shouuld make up for lost ground from here on in.

I still think Nadal should be undisputed no 1 but as there have been players like Rios who had no slams who got there so in the end I suppose the smaller occassions do matter as well.

Posted by Adepoju Tola 07/09/2008 at 03:36 AM

it seemed true during the match that Federer's psyche had been excessively battered by his inability to post good records i.e. victory against the Spaniard in the last few months and this showed in every serve, smile, movement he exhibited on the court and his final mien on Centre Court while holding the loser's garland was characteristic. It felt like "Since this always happens, might as well accept it, guess 2nd place isn't too bad"

Posted by rafarafu 07/09/2008 at 03:44 AM

Your best post steve - to go with the best match ever. Crucial moment for me was the break at 2-2 in the fifth - cos it gave rafa the chance to accept that he was no longer favourite - its easier to play being the underdog than winning 2 sets up. Would love to see the match again ..... and again!

Posted by Dee 07/09/2008 at 03:44 AM

Like you, not many people were left dried-eyed at the close of the A+++ match. Yes, why not give it triple A for once?! We had almost identical thoughts about a special moment just after Rafa won and climbed onto the stands. Here's what I posted in Monday Net post, in response to Or's post about Djokovic's parents:

--------------
Posted by Dee 07/08/2008 @ 10:51 AM

Or, I saw that --- and very much appreciated, the gesture of Federer's parents as they kept on clapping even when Rafa climbed into the same box they were in with Toni Nadal et al. Mirka had to move to the left side (I think as I could hardly see her in the fading light) while Gwen Stefani and Rossdale moved to the right side, creating enough space for Rafa to embrace his parents and team.

Both teams' members are to be commended too for being respectful of each other. They stood up and cheered quickly when their man won the point, then sat down immediately after.

What a night to remember!
------------

Rafa: Another time when he got angry with himself was when he almost threw down the racket after slipping.
I have not seen him do this yet.

Federer: Agree on the non-superiority factor when playing Rafa. It seems that Roger cannot put on his mantle of confidence. One would think, oh yeah, he lost to the guy 12 times in 18 matches, but then again ... this is Wimbledon! Until it probably dawns on Roger that here is a guy who almost beat him last year - then the cloak of confidence is drops.

Zheng: The returns from both sides were what undid Ivanovic.

Andy Murray: Did Rafael prophesy correctly when he said that Andy has the potential to be in the top 5? Looks like it.

to be continued ...

Posted by 07/09/2008 at 03:45 AM

Steve, i am one of rafa's biggest fan, but i have to give federer A+ for showing grit and spirit . He fought to the very end, and for that, for giving us a match to celebrate and enjoy,
he deserves more than an A

for mcenroe and gilbert, A is ok. they are entertaining to listen to; i don't mind gilbert's quirkyness

djoko, nikolay, ana and sharpy a big and resounding F

Venus, A, for finally beating her arrogant sister here in the big W

For the american men..... F, i was expecting roddick, blake and isner to make some headway

jankovic, kuzy and tipsy, C for failing to take advantage of their opportunities

The spanish armada, lopez, hottsauce, ferrer....B+ for showing their mettle on grass... it seems like its the year of the Spaniard

Gulbis, B+....we'll see more of this young Latvian

clement and shuettler....B+, for taking their opportunities to shine at such a "tender" age
gasquet & murray...B, for showcasing their talent once more..i hope they can do it consistently tho' ; barring injuries/illness

nalby... D, i heard he was injured tho', i think i got from Nancy


Posted by Dee 07/09/2008 at 03:45 AM

correction: Zheng: The LOW returns from both sides were what undid Ivanovic.

Posted by lightforce101 07/09/2008 at 03:46 AM

oops, the headless one was me

Posted by gosr 07/09/2008 at 03:56 AM

Djokovic deserves a 'F' because of his comments about Federer:
- "New names are coming, fresh talented players who believe more they can win against him and I am one of them. Suddenly he is worried a little bit."
- "Nadal is very motivated to win the Wimbledon title this year, he's been very close the last two years," Djokovic said. "But I'm one of the players behind intending to make a surprise. I just have to behave normally and be aggressive."
I guess the surprise was that he lost in the 2nd round.

Roddick: B-
He derserves it because he made it obvious that he really wanted it but made clear that may be he wanted it so much that he just couldn't perform.

Sharapova: D
She lost in the early rounds of RG and still chose not to play a warm-up tournament.

Jankovic: B+
For her comments about playing on court 18, best comment ever.
-"I was almost playing in the parking lot," she said. "I almost need a helicopter to go to my court."
Also for playing the 4th round and not pulling out despite her doctors telling her that she was questionable to play.

Posted by mayetc 07/09/2008 at 04:09 AM

Brilliant piece, Steve. I was waiting for your take on that unforgettable final because you're one of the few who predicted that Rafa will pull it off this year. I agree that it's almost impossible to describe what transpired on that hallowed court for close to 5 hours but I think your article and that of Pete's came quite close. I still can't find enough words to encapsulate the riveting drama, the top-flight quality of tennis and the character and courage that both players showed.

The two most indelible images I'd remember from this best-ever match is that of Rafa splayed on the ground after such a bruising, superlative encounter and his climb up the player's box to hug his parents, uncle and supporters. I was really moved by the supreme joy and pride etched on Rafa's father's face. And yes, I also noticed that Roger's parents were clapping the whole time Rafa was up there. Roger's mother even tried to shake Rafa's hand at one point. I had to re-watch that scene to check if Mirka did touch Rafa's leg as you said. And yes, she did. Although it was awkward to see Mirka, Gavin Rossdale and Gwen Stefani remain seated and look unaffected while Rafa's family was cheering wildly, I understood what they were going through. Their eyes were focused on Roger and at that moment, the loss must have felt painful as hell. But all credit to the parents of both Roger and Rafa. They are respectable and respectful and clearly, class acts. I hardly know anything about them but the way they conducted themselves in that moment really showed that their sons took after their graciousness, integrity and admirable character.

Posted by David Jose (viva la rojas) 07/09/2008 at 05:14 AM

The Cardigan deserved a F, it so hideous.

Roddick deserved a F, he had a easy draw and lost in 2nd round.

Posted by Yes 07/09/2008 at 05:17 AM

Incredible. Your article really brought me back to the raw feeling of that match like no other article I've read so far. The ups and downs, the twist your head whiplash turn arounds. What an amazing moment all us lucky jerks got to witness, enjoy, and now treasure. Unforgettable.

Posted by Rafafans 07/09/2008 at 05:18 AM

I can't help crying with Nadal when seeing his win! Both him and Uncle Toni were frighting and practicing so hard in this whole year after last year's loss and finally, Nadal gained his rewards. I really think it's really really touchable. It is so unbelievable that he won't be affected by losing that two championship points in the 4th set! I think he is the only player in the world who can be that clam and concentrate on whatever points and occasion. I think Federer was also doing a good job to come back. He could lose in anytime in the 4th set tiebreak but he still fright hard. What a match!!! Salute to both greatest players in the world!

Posted by svelterogue 07/09/2008 at 05:23 AM

i can't get past even one third of your article without crying. i've just read your first grade, steve, and it made me so happy. and just to think, you're known in these parts as being a roger fan! regardless of who your favourite is, i've always loved your writing, your analysis of tennis. my favourite lines SO FAR (because i have to finish reading this report card):

"Nadal has shown that tennis genius doesn’t have to be cool and free-flowing. It can be martial. It can be grinding. It can grunt. It can be unorthodox rather than elegant. It can have its roots in the grungy clay-court game yet still conquer the genteel grass version. It can wear pirate pants rather than cardigans. It can be all those things and still make you shake your head in awe..."

*crying happily*

Posted by svelterogue 07/09/2008 at 05:33 AM

*still crying*

my answer, steve, to your query (i know i know it was rhetorical!) is one big fat NO.

"Would you think less of me if I told you I had a tear—or two, or three—in my eye, for Rafa, for Robert Federer, for Uncle Toni, for Mirka, who touched Nadal’s leg as he walked past, and for Mr. and Mrs. Nadal, who sat tormented for seven hours before they could let it out?"

Posted by svelterogue 07/09/2008 at 05:39 AM

*still in awe of steve*

these are the best lines i've read that captures roger federer throughout this final. it's been debated wildly elsewhere but steve, you put it best. i have never been a stodgy school marm (although you can argue that i am, no matter what the circumstances) about expecting losing players to be gracious in defeat. in fact, i'm all for letting it all out which might explain why i love marat and why i excuse people who smash their racquets. i have "loved" roger most when he was yelling to the skies in german.

"We might have wished that he hadn’t mentioned how dark it was and that the conditions were tough—they were for both guys—but Federer managed to keep it light when he said he played the “worst” opponent on the “best surface.” To ask for perfect grace and no trace of bitterness from him at this moment would be to ask too much.

"Federer showed off the runner’s-up plate with surprising, classy enthusiasm, and walked around the court waving as if he were still the champ. What’s that Kipling line we hear so much about at Wimbledon: “If you can meet triumph and disaster and treat them just the same…”? On Sunday, Federer came as close as anyone could expect to living up to that brutal ideal.
"

Posted by svelterogue 07/09/2008 at 05:41 AM

"Whatever Federer was thinking on the inside, he looked sporting on the outside."

like you, i thought he looked good in his nike get-up after his loss. i didn't enjoy the cardigan but more because of all the hype surrounding it, the same way i didn't enjoy maria's tux and tiffany earrings --- not that they looked icky, but because of all the over-attention afforded these matters.

this time, roger put on his pants right. i actually liked the belt he had on his shorts. :D

Posted by svelterogue 07/09/2008 at 05:43 AM

word! and "ooohhh snapp!" LOL this is why i love you, steve:

"I didn’t see much of him, so he couldn’t become grating. But how can you not like a guy, who, right after a 9-7 fifth-set final, states that it will not be Federer who breaks Sampras’ record of 14 Slams, it will be Nadal. Never mind that Gilbert once said Federer would win 20 Slams and recently gave TENNIS Magazine three reasons why Nadal wouldn’t win this year’s French Open. He's a man with big ideas, even if they can be a little hare-brained."

Posted by svelterogue 07/09/2008 at 05:48 AM

"John McEnroe
I thought he had an off day on Sunday. He’s always low-key, but this time he seemed to be restating the obvious more often than usual. Still, I wouldn’t want to hear anyone else call Federer-Nadal. B

OK, I can’t write any more at the moment. I’ll have to say good night to the best fortnight—or at least the best final two days of a fortnight—I can remember.

Who did I forget? Who deserved an F?"

beginning with the end in mind, i would give tim henman a B for his efforts in the first three sets of the final as the bbc pundit, and maybe a D going towards the end of the match. i'd give andrew castle an A all throughout, for all his match commentaries (how about jason goodall, hawkeye analyst? such a familiar, reassuring voice). i would have preferred your low-key or redundant mcenroe ANY DAY to tim henman, who was obviously pro-roger. all his insights about what might be going through the players' minds during the rainbreaks were roger-centred. granted, he was being prompted by andrew castle, but he couldn't even be bothered to talk about things from rafa's perspective. i mean, i know he and roger are friends, they were featured in roger's blog eating dinner in japan... so hail, why him? if rusedski had been in there with him, at least it would have been more balanced!

Posted by Oyama 07/09/2008 at 06:06 AM

YOU FORGOT TO GIVE MARIA SHARAPOVA A Z+ FOR BEING A LOSER AND WOMENS TENNIS(F+) FOR LOSING ONE OF THEIR FANS(ME)OF 16 YEARS.

A+ TO THE MENS TOUR FOR YET AGAIN A GREAT TOURNAMENT. WELL DONE.

Posted by skip1515 07/09/2008 at 06:15 AM

Top shelf. Really well done. Thanks.

Posted by richie 07/09/2008 at 06:21 AM

Steve - Excellent summary of Wimbledon. Looking at the men's final a second time, I was struck by the foot speed and the shotmaking of Nadal and Federer.Both went for their shots when there was any chance of an opening and both played big when it counted. The 4th set tie-breaker was awesome. The pictures of the parents during the match brought home the torture they must have been going through. The entire match was played in the highest sense of sportsmanship and took tennis to the highest level.

Posted by Scott 07/09/2008 at 06:39 AM

Ted Robinson. "F."

We have to listen to him praise McEnroe for two weeks at the US Open. Now it's at Wimbledon, too?

Posted by daylily (proud owner of "bubbles") 07/09/2008 at 07:04 AM

Steve -- well, here it is wednesday dawn and i just read the first quarter of this piece -- will get to the rest later, with time -- and i have to say that it just blew me away. if you and bodo were competing on post-wimbledon musings, it would be impossible to judge. you know i'm a rafaelite from way back, and i want you to know that there are maybe three , possibly five, articles written on him that stand head and shoulders above the others for the nuances and perceptions evoked by the writers about their subject, and this one is, as i said, in contention for first place.

your writing is brilliant. your insight is perfect. thank you for bringing tears again to my eyes this week -- it's been an emotional rollercoaster for those of us who are so heavily invested in the two great stars of tennis currently playing on this planet.

Posted by zeg 07/09/2008 at 07:44 AM

All American commentators deserve an F for their incessant yapping during the points; watching the match in blissful silence felt entirely different. It's almost like trying to watch a great movie while being stuck behind a bunch of rowdy kids in a theater.
ESPN messed up not only with the silly scoreboard and the annoying bottom crawl, but also by quite noticeably distorting the HD picture while attempting to fit on the screen their mindless and unnecessary graphics.
Robert Federer is truly a class act.

Posted by Sophia 07/09/2008 at 07:46 AM

Steve Tignor - best tennis writer around. A+

(Although I would have to increase John McEnroe's grade as I thought he was once again great during the UK coverage. I know he polarises opinion and some find him a little irritating, but I thought he was funny, enthusiastic and had a lot of interesting things to say. He mocked Tim Henman throughout - even crashing in on one of his TV interviews - yet fiercely stood up for him when things got serious on a radio show, which featured people phoning in with ludicrous criticisms of Tim's efforts throughout the years. The best moment of all was when he was sitting next to Borg in the studio during the build-up to the final, suddenly Mac began to interview Bjorn about their famous match and it was a really great moment.)

Posted by Rasmus 07/09/2008 at 07:47 AM

The weather should get an "A" as well. Perfect during the 1st week. It added to the drama of the final day. I mean, without the rain delays, who knows how the match would have turned out, eh?

Posted by Jai 07/09/2008 at 07:51 AM

Steve, great piece. I'm also suddenly interested in reading what you've had to say earlier about the Wallace essay. I remember reading that essay a couple of years ago and enjoying it tremendously (even though I didn't feel the same way about Roger as Wallace did), but somehow it didn't occur to me that Wallace was being derogatory towards Rafa. Will go back and read it again.

Posted by elenas 07/09/2008 at 08:01 AM

No mention of Maria and Ana, Djoko?

Posted by roGER 07/09/2008 at 08:06 AM

An enjoyable article, Steve - thank you.

Sadly I have to disagree with you over this though:

"Nadal was summed up, in derogatory fashion, as a “martial” player, limited and earthbound compared to Federer. Could this article appear in a major publication and be lauded the same way now, after Sunday’s final?"

Of course not!

But it was certainly close to the truth in 2006, and it just goes to show how far Raffa's game has developed while Federer's has stayed still/declined a fraction. Which is not that surprising - Federer is two years older, and his game in 2006 was so near perfection it's hard to see how it could have gotten better. Actually if anything his serve is slightly better today while against anyone except Nadal, his ground strokes and the rest of his game seems about the same - maybe a fraction worse but no more than that.

And finally, I guess I am an old fashioned tennis fan - I see federer as the saviour of our sport - so many people at work (who normally seldom watch tennis) remarked to me how surprised they were that the match featured so many rallys and great shots.

It's hard to emphasise just how many casual fans tennis lost during the big serve era that preceeded Federer - hopefully seeing this final will bring them back...

Posted by Oyama 07/09/2008 at 08:09 AM

Maria Z+
Ana F+
Djoko L+ for loser

Posted by Master Ace 07/09/2008 at 08:23 AM

"I would bump up Chris Fowler to at least an A-. I read that he normally does NFL and has spread into tennis"

Chris Fowler work for ESPN College GameDay and not the NFL.

Steve,
Surprised that you did not give grades to the underperformers but at least, you reminded the tennis world that the WTA finals were played on Saturday between Serena and Venus. Otherwise, that will be the forgotten match of the weekend with the greatest match that I have ever seen played on Sunday b/w Roger and Rafael.

Posted by CPM 07/09/2008 at 08:47 AM

roGER @ 8:06 - Agree 100%; a big serve is still a big plus, but it's not the absolute be-all and end-all that it was in the mid-to-late 90s--and the game's better for it!

And Steve, great piece, great appreciation of a superlative match and champion. I'd agree with some others that Federer (and his family; the apple doesn't fall far from the tree!) deserves an A+, too, but otherwise, spot on. Djokovic obviously deserves an F, but I'm hoping he takes the right lessons from it; American men's tennis a D-; Spanish men's tennis a B+; Ivanovic a D; Sharapova a D, but her outfit a B+ (hey, I thought it worked); Jankovic a solid B for the grit; and there's plenty I'm forgetting.

Posted by cavedweller 07/09/2008 at 08:48 AM

Steve-
The best post-match commentary I have come across. A nonpareil blend of skillful reporting and heartfelt mood piece. A+.
Here's one more observation/query to throw into the torrents of words that have been written about Sunday's exquisite torture:
Nadal's uncharacteristic "choke" can be attributed to his (subconscious) reluctance to "humiliate" his revered opponent. On clay, Rafa knows he is entitled to the victory - at Wimbledon, besting Roger is tantamount to lese-majeste.
Having indulged in a little bit of retrospective speculation, here's a bit of anticipatory psychobabble: Having slain the dragon once, Nadal is unlikely to allow it to revive. As for Federer, if Rafa was "in his head" pre-Wimbledon, he is firmly ensconced there now. It will take a superhuman (and Rog is superhuman, isn't he) effort to dislodge the Rafa-ghost from his mind.
Desscending from that lofty plane, I just have to add that Rafa is the most adorable human on the planet...
What a match, what a day, what a sport, O Brave New World that hath such people in it!

Posted by vv varaiyya 07/09/2008 at 08:49 AM

What are those ketchup/mustard packets that Nadal seems to eat out of during matches? Some high energy food packets?

JetBoy's tenure at the top will be short-lived. His body can't handle the pounding his game requires for years on end.

Posted by Ryan 07/09/2008 at 09:03 AM

Ugh. Chris Fowler is C+ at best. Talk about trying too hard.

Posted by CPM 07/09/2008 at 09:03 AM

vv - I think they're called 'energy gels' (or something similar, depending on the brand); they're designed to be eaten and digested easily, and are very popular among runners, bicyclists, &c. from what I've seen here in the States. There's nothing terribly special about them.

Posted by Sri 07/09/2008 at 09:13 AM

The Greatest Tennis Match? Yes, by a long stretch.
For many years Federer could only improve based on his own level. Now he has to improve against a new benchmark ... Nadal. Can Nadal sustain this level? Only time will tell. But these two have given tennis the glamor respect it deserves. Like many other columns have said. Nadal won Wimbledon. Federer more respect. Tennis won a billion new fans.

Posted by steve 07/09/2008 at 09:32 AM

thanks, i think this took about as long to write as it did for fed and nadal to play the match. including rain delays

i debated federer as an A+. he did deserve it in a lot of ways, but i always feel like you have to give the winners top honors alone.

maybe it will motivate him

Posted by rudy3 07/09/2008 at 09:40 AM

NBC's Wimbledon grade:
(I'm a teacher, so you're gonna get a spreadsheet)

Daily coverage: taped delayed, embargoed matches, reruns...60
Late night show: too short to really do anything, redundant...72
Woman's final: good match helped, too much talking, I don't get what happened to Mary, she just could'nt stop talking...80
Men's Doubles Final: they air the match, then Ted, Mary & John, spend half the first set talking about the terrible state of doubles, and how none of the top players play. Not a good way to sell the product. I turned if off and watched a rerun of House Hunters...50
Men's final: great match did the work here. the drama and tension created...100
Big Fat Bonus: staying with the men's final until the glorious end showing Rafa walking up the stairs, no bailout!...100


Average: 73 + bonus = 87...round to 90...thats an A

See kids, it always pays to do the extra credit!

Posted by abbey 07/09/2008 at 09:50 AM

steve, as you can see from the comments, this article was eagerly anticipated. just like the sunday match. and this too didn't disappoint.

Posted by Sher 07/09/2008 at 09:53 AM

Good point, I had forgotten Gulbis -- the boy definetly earned recognition. According to the logic employed during French Open he's like the third best grass court player in the world right now, having taken a set off Nadal which is more than the rest of the people (not including Federer) managed *grins*

Also no grade for Djokovic is odd, I agree. But in general I feel that a grade is too subjective for any performance. I'd rather see simple commentary on the subject of each important player and no grade. That's why I didn't argue about the A/A+s because well, that's such a minor difference when both guys played outstanding tennis.

Posted by Igor "Fed Rules" Wright 07/09/2008 at 10:01 AM

Great grades Steve! I'll miss Amelie when she leaves too... Is this the year of one handed backhand death???

Djoker deserves a F grade for his big mouth!
:D

Posted by Rolo Tomassi 07/09/2008 at 10:05 AM

Steve,

Boy was this fun to read - so many insights that I hadn't seen in any of the pieces I'd already read.

The offhand reference to DFW's "allegedly brilliant" piece cracked me up, as did the reference to Murray-Gasquet as "hilarious."

I'd like to give some props to Cahill who's fast becoming one of my favorite guys in the booth. Love his blend of cold, hard analysis and fan-like enthusiasm.

As for Fs you might have missed, I think I pick Roddick before Djokovic, although for some reason I saw that upset with Tipsarevic (sp?) coming. Sue Mott, maybe?

Posted by 07/09/2008 at 10:07 AM

Who is Nadal to you? Your cousin or close friend?? I thought a journalist is supposed to be a lot more neutral than what you showed in this crap!! Picking on Federer in such a devastating defeat is not cool!!!

Posted by london 07/09/2008 at 10:29 AM

i should get an F because i took a nap in the middle of the mens final.

Posted by Andrew Miller 07/09/2008 at 10:37 AM

Mr. Tignor, I really enjoyed this professional piece of writing! I believe you more than accomplished the mission of "doing justice in words" to what happened during an "indescribable" match. I also appreciate that your piece was tempered by solid analysis - it is grounded in "what happened" and calls a spade, a spade. I also thought this was a transcendent line to correct David Foster Wallace's "loftiness"! Just goes to show that writing, giving equal play to fact AND emotion, can be outstanding. Here's the line I referred to from your piece:

"Nadal has shown that tennis genius doesn’t have to be cool and free-flowing. It can be martial. It can be grinding. It can grunt. It can be unorthodox rather than elegant. It can have its roots in the grungy clay-court game yet still conquer the genteel grass version. It can wear pirate pants rather than cardigans. It can be all those things and still make you shake your head in awe, just as we do with Federer."

Mr. Tignor, is there any thought given to the unconventional Monica Seles' at Wimbledon?

In 1990, like Nadal in 2005, she squares off against the world's top player, Graf, and beats her in the finals to become the French Open's youngest champion. In 1991, she wins 3/4 majors, but didnt play Wimbledon, meaning she won 100 percent of grand slams she entered. That said, not playing Wimbledon deprived her of practice on the grass. In 1992 she got to the Wimbledon final against Steffi Graf (much like Nadal's march to the 2006 final vs. Federer), but unlike Nadal, she got wiped out 6-2, 6-1. She went 55-1 in grand slam tournaments from 1991 to February 1993. Who's to say she wouldn't have improved on the grass?

Pre-stabbing, Monica Seles was THE player to beat, and the threats of Hingis and the Williams sisters were still distant. So, hypothetical and useless question as it may be:

Could Monica Seles have won Wimbledon against Graf? Or was even this mission too tall for the unconventional - could we say - MARTIAL Monica Seles?

Posted by SwissMaestro 07/09/2008 at 10:49 AM

Brad Gilbert is a little out of his mind... Nadal might be the one breaking Federer's record after Federer breals Sampras'. I just think it is a little too out of place to write Federer off to break the 14 Grand Slams mark.

Posted by Monica 07/09/2008 at 11:13 AM

Andrew Miller: very interesting parallel between Rafa and Monica. I think it's absolutely valid. Both Rafa and Monica were/are appreciated and loved as people, but their tennis is not for everyone.

I was just thinking, does one have to choose between Roger and Rafa? Can't one be a fan of both? I, for one, can't seem to pick one over the other because each in his own way seems to be a genuine mensch. But I admit to preferring Roger's tennis style because it seems so fluid and effortless where as Rafa's actually looks every bit the hard work it is. But then again, some people like to see the display of grit and hard work, so it's good to have them both. Something for everyone, right? I will always wish Monica hadn't felt the need to modify her game to conform to the genteel expectations of Wimbledon/tennis.

Posted by Peg 07/09/2008 at 11:16 AM

I think Cahill is by far the best of the announcers. I can't stand John. Everything is just about him. And Brad Gilbert just talks and talks and talks.

Posted by Eddy 07/09/2008 at 11:19 AM

"Starts with a G ends with a stop? :P"
I'm guessing you meant Gilmestob? Or how's his name spelled again...

Posted by princepro110 07/09/2008 at 11:20 AM

Steve,

Great recap, the best of the lot!

Ditto: John McE.........needs some new material!

Tracy Austin......she would be great for Tennis 101 class but thats all.

Roddick..........will he only come out of his hole for Davis Cup & a US Open Series win for the balance of his career?

American Mens Tennis ............is DOA!

Posted by Andrew Miller 07/09/2008 at 11:20 AM

I agree about Brad Gilbert being off.

Nadal has to make an Aussie or US Open final to contemplate breaking the mark of 14, and he has not made one yet at the age of 22 (5 grand slams at this young age, but nonetheless, 5 is far, far from 14 and none of those are hard court wins). To date, Nadal is a great hard court player, but he is not the premier hard court player. He has competition on a hard court.

So Federer at 12 championships, of course he's got the best shot!

That, and the fact that champions create their competition. Someone out there - the slightly diminished though nonetheless Mighty Federer of course, but also Djokovic and Gulbis seems to have some fire - they are motivated and sharpening their games. With Roddick taking the summer to focus on the US Open, that should present some problems for any US Open draw. The dogged Ferrer...the threats are just larger at the US Open for Nadal - larger than the French, and I think, larger than Wimbledon in terms of potential problems.

Posted by SwissMaestro 07/09/2008 at 11:20 AM

Steve-

I remember you saying in one of your previous posts this year that you still thought Federer would win a slam this year. I wonder what are your thought now?

1. Will he end the year ranked as the world's no.1 tennis player?
2. Will he still win the remaining slam of the year in your view?
3. Can he bounce back strong and carry that momentum onto the next year?
4. Will he win Wimbledon back next year?

Posted by Mr Rick 07/09/2008 at 11:21 AM

Great article, Steve. My favorite is still the one you wrote about a month ago about the accuracy of Rafa's shot-making, but you sure rose to the extremely difficult occasion with this one, as well.

Mother Nature - A
She mercifully held off the rain for almost the entire tournament, but then in sublime dominatrix fashion, REALLY messed with our heads on Sunday. When I put out my recycling bin yesterday, it was full of empty Maalox bottles.

Tony Nadal -A+++

Marat Safin - A- it was great to see him back, and his off court interviews are almost as good as his on-court efforts. I will be really pissed if he doesn't show up on the hard courts later this month full guns blazing.

Brad Gilbert - D - sorry, this guy irritates the hell out of me. His giant ego sucks the air right out of the television studio. As I said in a previous post, I found it really disturbing that he spent most of the two weeks praising Rafa as the second coming, then when he didn't completely crush Rainer, as he predicted, suddenly Rafa was playing like an old lady. Then of course after then final, Rafa was going to go on and take the USO, AO and dominate the entire world. Of course if Rafa doesn't win the USO, Gilbert will then say Rafa is a failure. Woe be unto any player who doesn't fit Gilbert's narrative. Sorry, Brad Gilbert is a bully and a gas bag. Darren Cahill is so much more interesting to listen to.

D - that English tabloid reporter lady who ESPN kept having on everyday to fight with Brad Gilbert. She seemed to reinforce every stereotype of the snooty, creepy British scandalmonger - what next, a Gitane-smoking, beret-wearing French commentator?

???? - the white jacket Rafa was wearing in the final. It looked sort of old fashioned, had no Nike swoosh, so what was that all about? I am now guessing it is an old jacket someone gave him (maybe Uncle Toni, Carlos - or?) to wear as a talisman?

Posted by chinkyv101 07/09/2008 at 11:29 AM

Steve, I absolutely loved you article! It was by far, the best one I have read about Sunday's amazing final between two of tennis' best (and trust me when I say I have been all over the internet reading every single one I find). Almost all of what you wrote was exactly how I felt watching the match... I was at the edge of my seat, and sometimes not even on my seat the entire time. I couldn't stand how nerve racking and brilliant the tennis was, and it killed me when I tried to imagine how it felt for Rafa and Roger who were actually playing! I almost gnawed my nails all the way to my knuckles trying to contain all the excitement. And my heart went out to Nadal as he fell to the floor in victory. I had been waiting for that moment since the first time he made it to the finals of Wimbledon (even though I had little doubt that Federer would win it that year). But I knew after last year's final, he was ready to step up to the challenge.


I agree with svelterogue who posted on 07/09/2008 @ 5:23 AM on this point. This was one of my favorite lines from your article because I knew exactly what you meant. I have liked Federer from the beginning but gained so much respect for Nadal as I saw his game improve every year that I became a fan of his too. So watching any match that featured these two was always great. One of the things I liked about Federer was the ease with which he played. He was so fluid with every stroke and cool, calm and collected. But Nadal's play also enthralled me! I loved the tenacity that he went after everything with; the furrowed brow showing his grit and will to try and win every single point. He was just such a great player to watch and the more he got closer to Federer, the more I realized that there was room for two great champions with such contrasting styles of play. It gave tennis so much more depth and great dimension to the sport. They are both classy, humble and definitely worthy champions. Which brings me back to one of my favorite lines from your article:


"Nadal has shown that tennis genius doesn’t have to be cool and free-flowing. It can be martial. It can be grinding. It can grunt. It can be unorthodox rather than elegant. It can have its roots in the grungy clay-court game yet still conquer the genteel grass version. It can wear pirate pants rather than cardigans. It can be all those things and still make you shake your head in awe..."

----
So thanks again Steve for bringing back all the emotions and memories of watching that much and I am sure I will not forget it for the rest of my life. Hail to the 2008 Wimbledon Men's Singles Champion- RAFAEL NADAL!!!!! (PS: It brought tears to my eyes as well when the called Rafa this as he went to collect the trophy! It was almost surreal to hear his name come after that title. And when he went to hug his parents, I was balling my eyes out!)

BEST FINAL EVERRRRRRR!

Posted by pm 07/09/2008 at 11:29 AM

Steve,

Thank you a for a wonderful article!

While I wish that this wasn't true, I don't think Federer will ever beat Nadal on clay AND grass from now. While this match could have gone either way, I can't see how Federer can evolve with respect to this matchup.

Posted by chinkyv101 07/09/2008 at 11:30 AM

Steve, I absolutely loved you article! It was by far, the best one I have read about Sunday's amazing final between two of tennis' best (and trust me when I say I have been all over the internet reading every single one I find). Almost all of what you wrote was exactly how I felt watching the match... I was at the edge of my seat, and sometimes not even on my seat the entire time. I couldn't stand how nerve racking and brilliant the tennis was, and it killed me when I tried to imagine how it felt for Rafa and Roger who were actually playing! I almost gnawed my nails all the way to my knuckles trying to contain all the excitement. And my heart went out to Nadal as he fell to the floor in victory. I had been waiting for that moment since the first time he made it to the finals of Wimbledon (even though I had little doubt that Federer would win it that year). But I knew after last year's final, he was ready to step up to the challenge.


I agree with svelterogue who posted on 07/09/2008 @ 5:23 AM on this point. This was one of my favorite lines from your article because I knew exactly what you meant. I have liked Federer from the beginning but gained so much respect for Nadal as I saw his game improve every year that I became a fan of his too. So watching any match that featured these two was always great. One of the things I liked about Federer was the ease with which he played. He was so fluid with every stroke and cool, calm and collected. But Nadal's play also enthralled me! I loved the tenacity that he went after everything with; the furrowed brow showing his grit and will to try and win every single point. He was just such a great player to watch and the more he got closer to Federer, the more I realized that there was room for two great champions with such contrasting styles of play. It gave tennis so much more depth and great dimension to the sport. They are both classy, humble and definitely worthy champions. Which brings me back to one of my favorite lines from your article:


"Nadal has shown that tennis genius doesn’t have to be cool and free-flowing. It can be martial. It can be grinding. It can grunt. It can be unorthodox rather than elegant. It can have its roots in the grungy clay-court game yet still conquer the genteel grass version. It can wear pirate pants rather than cardigans. It can be all those things and still make you shake your head in awe..."

----
So thanks again Steve for bringing back all the emotions and memories of watching that much and I am sure I will not forget it for the rest of my life. Hail to the 2008 Wimbledon Men's Singles Champion- RAFAEL NADAL!!!!! (PS: It brought tears to my eyes as well when the called Rafa this as he went to collect the trophy! It was almost surreal to hear his name come after that title. And when he went to hug his parents, I was balling my eyes out!)

BEST FINAL EVERRRRRRR!

Posted by SwissMaestro 07/09/2008 at 11:33 AM

Every great player has a downside to their potential. Too bad to know Nadal's is his knees. I really do not believe they will hold on the fort to be able to translate his iron will and brute force into success on hardcourts as they are way too bruised already. He is very likely to keep on holding to his piece of dirt though.

Posted by Monica 07/09/2008 at 11:38 AM

I usually dislike playing couch psychologist and pretending to know how other people are experiencing an event (I think Mr. Bodo does way too much of that) but I'll indulge just this one time. Does ayone think Nadal has a slight psychological edge over Federer because he is better prepared to lose to him? It's respectful of Nadal to declare Roger the best player in the world, but I'm thinking it's also smart. It takes a lot of pressure off of him. After the fourth set, when Nadal set there, eating a banana and vigorously pumping his left leg, it looked as if he was thinking/feeling "O.K., I know he's the greatest so it's no surprise he's come back, but I'm still going to go for it. I do have one more chance."

Roger, on the other hand, seemed to be fighting with the fear of being dethroned. It was as if he was thinking "This can't be happening, I can't lose Wimbledon to Rafa, this is mine, it has to be mine." May be that's why he seemed "aggrieved" as Steve insightfully put it (as if he was "offended" on some subconscious level that he even had to try this hard when Rafa beat *him* so easily on clay.) Maybe, just maybe, Roger would have played even better if he had fought if not as the underdog at least an equal???

Posted by SwissMaestro 07/09/2008 at 11:44 AM

I still think Federer should have kept on riffling that inside-out forehand that was killing Nadal all match long whenever he had the opportunity (like in the last match point) becuase he just could not miss it and was giving him clear winner after clear winner. This shor completely represents a winnign proposition against Nadal and also represents the decisive difference between Nadal and the rest of the players. Nadal is stubborn enough to always stick with what works; or as Steves has described it, his "bread and butter": serve out wide and keep pounding on to the backhandside of his opponent enough to push him out of possition and then drill and inside-out forehand to the other corner.

For all of Nadal's defensive attributes I still think he is a lot more vulnerable to defend the shot I decribed above because he is naturally a righty so it makes it more difficult for him to cut the angle with his movement to his left when players like Djokovic, Federer, Ferrer or Davydenko use that deep and flat inside-out forehand to Nadal's own forehand side, it is the shot to beat him, the problem though is that opposition does not use it well enough ans consistently enough to take advantage of its benefits.

There is another shot that also breaks Nadal's defense down but it is a much tougher proposition to go for it -and to have the nerve to execute it- and that is the down the line backhand because unlike the deep and flat inside-out forehand, it has much less margin for error as it has to be timed and hit perfectly inside both lines -side and base-, let alone the stroke is hit from the bast majority of the players' weaker side.

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