February 02, 2009
Believe it or not, the Super Bowl wasn’t the only major sporting event that took place yesterday. Earlier, the men’s final of the Australian Open in tennis was on ESPN2 at the wee hours of the morning. Even though tennis is a game I love, I don’t love it enough to get up at three in the morning to watch it live, so instead, I waited until 9am to see the tape-delayed match on the Tennis Channel. It used to be easier doing this, by the way, watching a sporting event after it has already happened. Before the Internet, it was fairly simple to keep away from knowing the outcome: stay away from the news on TV. But now? With my home page being My Yahoo!, which culls the latest bits from Reuters and the New York Times, there are news landmines everywhere. And it’s just not possible for me to leave the laptop off if I’m going to be watching TV — who doesn’t multitask nowadays?
Anyway, I managed to stay in the dark, and I watched a match that turned out to be more emotional than anyone thought it would be. Just some quick background info, in case you don’t pay attention to the professional game of tennis: Roger Federer was the #1 ranked player for about five years, but he was relegated to #2 last year by Rafael Nadal. There are four major tournaments, and they are the Australian, French, Wimbledon, and U.S. In this sport, it’s all about winning these Grand Slams; even though the players accrue points and money in other tournaments, they don’t mean much.
In the end, Nadal ended up winning in five sets. Just a day ago, he’d gone another five sets in his semi-final match to get here while Federer won in three straight sets (and had an extra day of rest), so if anyone should’ve been feeling it, it should’ve been Nadal, but as you can see from the photo below, it was Federer who broke down in tears.
It was difficult to watch, not only because it was heartbreaking (Federer is trying for career record in winning these Slams, and he’s only two away), but because it was such a raw display of emotion. And then I thought about how lucky it was that we have sports, because it is one of the few places where it’s okay for men to cry. Yes, now in the 21st century, men are more spiritually evolved than they’ve ever been, but still, no man I know is comfortable with letting it all go, especially in public. But in partaking, watching, or reading about sports? Think of the number of men who must’ve bawled when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. Their proud tears could probably fill a lake.
As strange as this may sound, what made me sad more than anything was watching the Rolex commercial that very well might have played a hundred times during the match. In it, you see the grace of Federer in slow motion with the majestic music pumping in the background. Rolex has signed him to a multiyear deal, but at some point, all of these commercials will be featuring someone else younger and fitter and better. These athletes devote their entire lives to a game, but they reach the peak when most other careers are just beginning. How would you like to be told you’re a has-been on your thirtieth birthday?
The late David Foster Wallace wrote about the beauty of Roger Federer’s game, so if you’ve never read it, you’re in for a treat. It was written three years ago, and it goes without saying that a lot has changed since then for both the writer and the subject. Time, as usual, passes with inexorable indifference.