The Art of Excellence: 15 Grand Slam Titles
Five Quick Thoughts on Wimbledon 2009
1. 16-14 in the fifth set is pretty amazing. Tennis in the 5th set is better than any sport (I am biased, but I am right).
2. Andy Roddick and Roger Federer proved tennis can be played at a faster pace. Not that we don’t all love ritualistic behavior or a lot of bounces before the service toss, but it was nice to see a tennis match move along between points even if the points were at times quite quick.
3. The Women’s draw served up the best possible final pairing it could. The result? An awkward match between 2 sisters and best friends, and a Centre Court crowd that was quiet. The WTA has to wonder how smaller events will attract fans if Serena vs. Venus at Wimbledon was so anti-climactic.
4. The Williams Sisters winning in doubles and being champion and runner-up in singles has capped a nice 54 weeks for the family. Venus and Serena won Wimbledon doubles titles in 2008 and 2009, added an Olympic Gold Medal in 2009 and an Australian Open doubles title in 2009. Serena winning 3 of the previous 4 majors helps re-categorize her career. Venus has always had a game with more hitches that was more likely to break down. Serena could have been viewed as having squandered a lot of talent, but now I view her career more like Andre Agassi’s. Each did lose a few years, but in the end Serena is carving a nice spot for herself in tennis history. Venus is among the best grass court players ever.
5. Andy Roddick deserves to be accepted by the mainstream non-tennis U.S. Sports media as a nationally significant figure. The mainstream sports media in the U.S. has never quite warmed up to Roddick due to not winning as often as Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, or Pete Sampras. Roddick is a stalwart for Davis Cup, he’s been a top 10 player for the majority of a decade and a top 5 player for many years.
I don’t want to rehash the 3rd consecutive 5 set championship thriller produced on the men’s side of the draw. The first 2 sets felt a lot like the 2000 Wimbledon final. Sampras was aiming for his record 13th major title. Patrick Rafter won a 1st set tiebreaker when Sampras missed a few serves and made a nervous double fault. Rafter then raced to a lead in the second set tie breaker only to let Sampras level the match. Each player won a set the other likely should have. Rafter went away after the second set in 2000. Roddick did not in 2009. In a sense, the match resembled Goran Ivanisevic in 1998 missing a few returns to take the second set only to rally in the fourth and fall in the fifth to a man who beat him in the 1994 final and 1995 semifinal round. One can only hope Roddick has a similar cathartic Wimbledon experience to Goran’s 2001 title run.
This was a great match. I can only say Roddick went the distance, and Roger won the crown.
The one thing I felt was odd about this great match was the side story. At tennis’ most hallowed grounds, the former masters of the sport sat to watch history being made. Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, and Pete Sampras sitting in the Royal Box gave a fatalistic tone to the match. These former high priests of tennis looked on stoically to see if Roger Federer could add something new to the pantheon of the sport. If Roddick had won, would these three have shown up every time Roger reached a Grand Slam final? It was great to have them there, but I had an eerie feeling about the match from the outset.
15 is Hard to Fathom
As a kid I loved tennis. I would read about it, play, check scores in the morning newspaper, and of course watch tennis whenever I could. Being born in 1975, I did not have the internet for looking up facts, figures, anecdotes and trivia about this great sport. Although, I have always thought TENNIS Magazine was too slow in its circulation to cover the professional tours well, I loved getting the yearbook issue every December. Somewhere buried in that issue was a list of all of the Grand Slam winners: male, female, singles, doubles, and even mixed doubles for every year back to the inception of these events. I would pour over the data to find interesting things such as Jimmy Connors two Grand Slam doubles titles. I would circle results and count various titles. I thought it was cool to look at 1988 and see Steffi Graf’s name across all four champion lines. I remember thinking Connors’ 5 U.S. Open titles were unreal, but also wondered how good Bill Tilden must have been with his 7 U.S. Championships. Each year it was nice to see what Mats Wilander or Ivan Lendl or Boris Becker or Steffi Graf added to their respective legacies in relation to other greats.
Excellence is an Art
Today that information is all quite accessible and easily sorted. Still, I can’t help but feel like a kid again when I consider Australian Open titles in 2004, 2006, 2007, a French Open title in 2009, Wimbledon titles in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009 and U.S. Open titles in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. The sheer numbers are unreal.
After the championship match ended Sampras was interviewed in front of the board of champions, I could see his name on the board over and over again. I just thought “Wow, what a champion!” I am 33 now and life is more complex. One of the fun things about sports for me today is that I as an average player and lifelong fan can see people do something I love at the highest level. Longevity is an added bonus. There is something enlivening about seeing a person do something exceptionally well over a number of years. Aristotle said it best when he said, “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
The sublime, the aesthetic, and the excellent, are things to appreciate even in athletics, and Roger Federer, playing against the best tennis players in the world, has been generally excellent and somewhere between really good and otherworldly every week since July 2003. In 7 years, he posted 15 major titles. Fans of tennis in the future can look at the data electronically and think, “I know today’s number 1 is great, but what about this guy who won all 4 majors at least once, won 5 U.S. Opens in a row and 6 Wimbledon titles in 7 years? He must have been something.”
Also Check Out:
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Maria Sharapova Wants More Grand Slam Titles [Video]
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