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Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

The King is Dead. Long Live the King.

Wimbledon lost its king of the past five years, and crowned the new king yesterday. You can read several reports (BBC of Federer, BBC on Nadal). Cliches will abound. Records are meant to be broken. No one can be champion forever. Time to bring in the new guard, etc. The sportsman in me says that we saw the right result in the tightest of matches--number two bested number one, and became the new "top dog" on England's hallowed grass. Rafael Nadal won. Roger Federer lost. Nadal may get the statistical recognition later in the year as the number one player. Roger that. Over and out.

Everyone who was privileged to see yesterday's men's final at Wimbledon will have a particular recollection of the event. It was the best tennis I have ever seen and many commentators said the same, and I take their word more than my own. The class of the match was high for almost every exchange, and it's easy to run out of superlatives.

It was the longest ever final at Wimbledon, and it seemed like the longest day ever for watching a final event. We ardent fans of one player or another--in my case a huge fan of Federer--will be crowing or feeling sorrow. For most of the match my palms were sweating and I could feel tension like I was playing through every nervous point myself. I did not need the have a PlayStation, or Wii, or 3-D glasses to make me feel part of the action. It was me on one side of the net; pumping out every ace served; swinging hard through every forehand; slicing every backhand; crunching every volley; agonizingly missing the lines; querying every dubious call; nervously drinking between change overs; looking up at the darkening clouds. It was me against Nadal, dressed in Federer's body, and feeling his desperation and then hope, and then defeat.

One dear friend was exchaging text messages and phone calls with me throughout the match, from early in the morning till late afternoon. Her voice sounded shaky from the first set. As the match wore on she became disheartened, but ever hopeful. Towards the end of the match, she was so distraught that she had to hide herself in her bathroom, unable to watch in case she saw the moments of a defeat she did not want to happen. After the match, she was a mass of tears: proud that her hero had gone done in the most heroic of fashions with the final result determined not by the tie-break decider but by a clear loss of game. Later in the night, I sent her some extra information that over the whole match our hero had lost by five points (Nadal won 209, Federer won 204). We knew from what we had seen that the titanic struggle that was unfolding was as close as a match could be. The sport's best two players going toe-to-toe, shot-for-shot; neither yielding very much; each bring out his best play and forcing the other to match or go better--for over four hours and with the added drama of rain interrupting play.

For the players, they have to live with the thrill of victory and the bitterness that comes from defeat: no matter how close you get to a win, missing it is hard to live with. As a coach, I always had to preach positive lessons to my young players, so we never lost, we came second. But everytime we "came second" I felt a deep gnawing in my stomach, not for me personally but for all the players who had worked so hard ahead of the game and now would have to go back and reflect on what went wrong individually and collectively; revisit questions about one's own ability; dig deep to find if there was more mentally and physically that could be brought out to get to the level needed to be first. For the player, one has to rebound fast and rebuild belief in ability, commitment, and mental strength.

I remember when as a boy winning my first major championship. The race was a blur--it was the 100 meters--but all I remember was that my chest touch the tape first--look right, look left, no one there. Me! I did it. I looked up to see if I could find my parents, who rarely came to watch, but did this time. I could not see them but found them quickly after the result was confirmed. "Bway! You can run!" was all they said. As an 11 year old it was my biggest thrill. You get the medal; you have the record; nothing will ever change that. That's the sweetness. I remember about a year later, playing in a football final. There were only a few minutes left. I hit a shot on goal; it beat the goalkeeper; it hit the post and rolled across the line and hit the other post; it was cleared. On the break away, they scored: 1-0. The final whistle blew, and we had no time to even restart. We lost. I cannot remember for how long I cried. Disbelief at what had just happened in a matter of seconds. Bitter defeat pushed down my throat just where the sweet taste of victory competed more, there was never a sense as sweet as being a champion, individual or team--moreso as it is so rare. The empty chasm that is waiting for the defeated at the final hurdle is a dark chamber that never seemed welcoming, but it had to be entered sometimes and I never liked it.

The emotions of players during a match is something that commentators try to impart but usually fail to do. It's why the major TV stations try to have commentators who have been champions; they have the rare experience of that supreme winning moment. Yesterday, I saw for the first time how a commentator can impart the true sense of defeat, when John McEnroe was interviewing Roger Federer after the match. McEnroe is as competitive as there is and he sensed quickly that Federer was about to crack under the emotion of defeat. So, instead of one more asinine question, he hugged the player, saying he knew how hard the moment was. He did not lie, of course. He left it there.

When the news of a sports event takes on headline proportions in other completely unrelated areas, such as financial markets, then you know that something great has happened. That's clear from news reporting today. When, several weekends ago, I saw Tiger Woods come back on three consecutive days to win the US Open I thought I had seen the best sports drama for a long time. What I saw yesterday made that pale into a lesser event very quickly. Well done, Roger, for playing like a true champion. Well done, Rafa, for playing like a true champion. No verbal or physical outbursts from either player. Great sport. Great sportsmanship. Great.

1 comment:

You know me said...

You really love tennis neh Dennis. LOL. Your friend cannot be a W.I cricket fan or else she would be in the bath room all the time. LOL. Me? I prefer a book. Anything for a peaceful life .