Sunday, July 06, 2008

6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (8-10), 9-7

My son's birthday is this week, so my wife and I spent most of the weekend at her parents' house, getting things ready for next Saturday's party.

We left him there last night and made plans to head over early, go to the flea market, and get to work at a reasonable hour. I had me a deck to scrub.

Somehow, in the midst of all this, it slipped my mind that by leaving our apartment at nine AM, we would be missing the Wimbledon men's final. And not just any Wimbledon men's final, but one featuring a rivalry that might be my favorite in all of sports (yes, even better than Red Sox-Yankees, a rivalry so overhyped that it has become nauseating even for me, a Red Sox fan): Roger Federer, winner of five straight singles titles at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships, against Rafael Nadal, the clay court phenomenon who served notice at last year's tournament that he would soon be able to handle Federer on grass as well.

This was the third consecutive year the two met in the final at Wimbledon; my wife and I had watched the first two, her admiring Rafa's boyish charm and good looks while my support went to Federer's efficient play and effortless dominance. A live viewing of this one wasn't in the cards, though, so I set the DVR and went about my day*.

*Why not watch it at my in-laws house after the flea market but before chores, you ask? Because while they have a 42-inch wide screen TV, on which I have watched AFC Championship games, final rounds of the Masters, and Red Sox playoff games, they are currently in the process of switching from DirecTV to Comcast and do not have the TV hooked up to anything.

The first indication that something interesting was in the air came around 11:30; as I was leaving the flea market, my friend Chris texted me to say that "Nadal's putting on a clinic" and had taken the first two sets, 6-4 and 6-4. My response? "Wow. New sheriff in town. Hope it becomes a five set classic." That's me: prematurely accepting defeat while holding out hope that something special will happen. Chris did his best to shoot me down: "Keep hoping. I don't see it."

Later, during lunch, I checked online and saw that Federer had won the third set in a tiebreak. I think we were in Lowe's, buying scrub brushes, when word came that he had also taken the fourth set, also in a tiebreak, and that Nadal was starting to fall apart. And we were in the Wal-Mart parking lot, waiting for my mother-in-law to return from buying my father-in-law a sandwich, when Chris texted again to let me know that the fifth set was in a rain delay, tied 2-2. When that news came, and I looked at the time, I was very glad that I had chosen to record two hours of extra time on the DVR. This one was going the distance, and then some.

We looked again and saw that Rafa had pulled it out, 9-7 in the fifth set, knowledge that caused my wife to smile and clap her hands like a little girl while sitting in front of the computer. I looked only at the score - 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (8-10), 9-7 - and immediately knew that my earlier wish had come true: this was not some worthless match that I would delete without watching; no, this was, without a doubt, a five-set classic, a legendary battle of wills that I would watch and watch again and tell my kids about someday. Look at that score - how much more do you need to know? How much more epic can it get?

In a way, I'm glad The Spaniard won; though he previously owned Federer on clay, this was Federer's surface and Federer's venue. Nobody, but nobody, beats him on grass; nobody, but nobody, beats him at Wimbledon. By beating Federer on the grass court at Wimbledon, Nadal served notice to everyone that this rivalry is not one-sided. He can win on clay; he can win on grass; maybe he can even win on the hard courts at Flushing Meadows or Melbourne Park. This rivalry is now a real rivalry - anything is possible, either man can win on any given day, on any given surface, in any given tournament. That's exciting.

When we got home, I checked the DVR and found that it was full, 100% - I had recorded from an HD channel, which my wife informed me was a no-no for such a large block of time. Deleting some old episodes of Maury and The Office gave us some wiggle room, but chances are that something will have to be done soon (Sleepaway Camp might have to go bye-bye, which will be a sad day indeed). Either I figure out how to burn this match onto a DVD, or I watch it over and over and over again until every point, every game, every set, is committed to memory. I'd rather do it the first way, personally, but that's just me. My memory sucks.