Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Putting a lid on the drama

Well, it's no wonder the powers-the-be at Wimbledon are putting a retractable roof over Centre Court -- a columnist from America's most important newspaper couldn't even be bothered to wait out the rain delay during Rafael Nadal's seminal win over Roger Federer.

(Yeah, we know who's the empire which the sun never sets on. Take that, John Oliver. You too, Jimmy Hogg.)

It's completely irrational to feel upset over the end of one sports' great anachronisms, yet there's still a sense of loss. People are funny that way. Over here in North America, with our lack of couth, we never would have put up with the rain delays -- one of the charms of an English summer -- and play being suspended due to darkness that are part of the fortnight. (Nor do we use words such as fortnight.)

When it's the other guy, there's something compelling about how the fans at the All England Club just wait the downpours and the matches that take three days to complete, in their cheerfully resolute British way, just like the way they survived the Blitz back in 1940 without a bit of woe-is-us. At least that's the way it seems from here.

Now it's gone for good. It's really silly to have any kind of sad bastard lament over it, but then again, there are still people who prefer CDs to iPods and would rather make popcorn in an air popper than in a microwave, too. The truth is Centre Court probably should have had a retractable roof years ago, the same way it was absurd that Wrigley Field in Chicago didn't have lights until 1988, or that it's taken this long for college football to have a true national championship. (Whattya mean they still don't have one?)

There's a sense of loss, probably as a reaction to the push for everything to be more cost-efficient, time-efficient and manpower-efficicent, where everything runs smoothly and fits into a nice little prefab three-hour window. From the sounds of it, though, the rain delays and the gathering gloaming enchanced the tension of Nadal's four-hour, 48-minute, 62-game dethroning of Federer -- and at least in my small, isolated corner of the world, everyone was jazzed up about tennis, of all things.

That won't be the case on a future fortnight. C'est la vie.

A couple more late leaping-off points:

  • One thought that keeps bubbling up is whether or not this might herald a second tennis boom -- more people following and playing the sport, as was the case in the '70s and '80s, when the game, for a lack of less obvious cliche, was dragged out of country clubs and brought to the masses.

    Two big drivers might be Wii tennis and more worldly American sportscape. Apparently, Wii tennis is pretty addictive. It seems unlikely that playing a sports video game creates curiosity to follow the sport (although some people have said they understand football better after playing Madden), but maybe a popular video game might lead a few people to check out the sport on TV.

    Secondly, the end of the tennis boom, at least in the States during the '90s, somewhat stemmed form the absense of American personalities. Pete Sampras was a great champion, but he was bland, and the sport sagged in popularity.

    There seems to be a desire among U.S. sports fans to feel more worldly and outward-looking, especially during the last throes of Bush-Cheney. Living vicariously through a global sport is a great means to that end, even if it doesn't make you any smarter. Rooting for Rafa Nadal might become one of the accoutrements (he typed, sarcastically) of being an it-getter international sports fan.
  • It's odd how we're conditioned to be speculative. Nadal just edged by a reduced Federer and already this raises speculation over whether he could win the Grand Slam, now that he's won titles on clay and grass. Sports On My Mind poured some cold water over the idea, pointing out the conditions were ideally suited for Nadal to stay back on the baseline, like he does on the slow-playing clay courts.

    Still, we're overdue for a Grand Slam. It's been 20 years since Steffi Graf's 'Golden Slam' in 1988. Nadal is probably not good enough to win the Australian or U.S. Opens.
  • Last but not least, tennis when played well is the most beautiful and demanding game you can name.
(Lay off The Times' brilliant Bill Rhoden, -- granted, when you've written a book as good and as searing as Forty Million Dollar Slaves, you're gonna be a lightning rod . So he left the greatest match ever to go see a Will Smith movie, big deal, wanna fight about it? It's not like he woke up at 12:10 Eastern time on Sunday, assumed that match which had started three hours earlier was probably over, went looking for the first sports event on the TV, just to have something on to ignore, which happened to be a WNBA game, carried on blissfully unaware of what was transpiring at the All-England Club, then got to work at 4 p.m. to see it was tied 7-7 in the fifth set ... like some people we could name!)

Memorable Wimbledon Final Also Signals End of an Era (Christopher Clarey, The New York Times)
How the Courts of Wimbledon Stole Immortality from Roger Federer (and Made Rafael Nadal Appear Great) (Sports On My Mind)

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