This is why tennis is not dead. Yet.
This is why two guys with racquets can still captivate even those who’ve long dismissed the sport. At least for now.
This is why America’s men may never reign again in this sport. Never. And it’s a shame.
I’m not sure who’s next on the tennis stage. Or more accurately, I’m not sure if heir apparent Novak Djokovic will ever achieve Roger Federer’s greatness.
And Djokovic will certainly never have Rafael Nadal’s guns.
So for now, let’s just enjoy what we’ve got. Or what we got Sunday – 4 hours and 48 minutes of athletic brilliance.
Nadal’s five-set wonder over Federer will be measured mostly by numbers. It prevented the world’s No. 1 player – at least for now – from setting a modern-era record of six consecutive Wimbledon titles. It also snapped Federer’s Wimbledon match win streak at 40, just one game-set-match shy of matching Bjorn Borg’s magnificent mark.
Nadal won by surviving 25 aces and saving all but one of 13 break points. The Spaniard also broke Federer four times, including once in the for-the-ages fifth set, in the 15th game. In his previous six matches in this tournament, Federer had been broken just twice.
Nadal also won after dropping the first two sets. No man has done that at Wimbledon in more than 80 years.
But forget the numbers and remember this: American men could never do this.
I’m not sure what we lack. It’s certainly not for want of athleticism or passion or heart.
We still produce once-in-a-generation stars in nearly every other sport. But in tennis we can’t seem to produce squat.
Andy Roddick? Good not great.
James Blake? Easy to root for but not so great.
No one else possesses more than an occasional rocket serve or a once-every-millennium upset win that makes us think, maybe. But then they return to tennis oblivion.
Our last great American men – Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi – are aging gracefully alongside their predecessors, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe.
The game doesn’t matter to enough of us any more.
The solitude of it goes against our social nature. (Besides why do all that running around sweating by yourself when you could be playing golf?)
The work it requires seems to outweigh the payoff.
And the travel is a beast.
More than anything, though, our kids have more options – the same options that are changing the face of baseball and causing the much-discussed dearth of black players.
Quite simply, we don’t want it enough.
We don’t want it enough to be great. Or be great for more than a minute.