It may have almost nothing to do with New York, but I would be doing you a disservice if I failed to point out that the greatest sports event of 2012 probably occurred on Sunday. No, not the Pro Bowl and certainly not the NHL All-Star Game. I am talking about the Australian Open Men’s Final. Novak Djokavic beat Rafael Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5. The match took an amazing 5 hours and 53 minutes to complete, meaning my DVR had long stopped taping by the time I started watching. It’s unfortunate, because it was as dramatic and intense a sporting event as I can recall watching.
But, I imagine most of you didn’t see it and don’t mind missing it. For some reason, tennis has become an afterthought in this country and I cannot figure out why. Some argue that it is the lack of an American dominating the sport. I like to think that we aren’t that provincial as a country and besides, the Williams Sisters are very American and very, very good at tennis having each won the career Grand Slam and 12 Majors a piece. No, I think the reason nobody watches tennis anymore is Pete Sampras and the tennis that he played.
In the 1990’s tennis became a serve and volley game. A typical point was serve, return, volley to win. Service games were tidy, quick and easy. Pete Sampras was great at it and he dominated the sport, but I suspect he also put people to sleep. It was the baseball equivalent of everyone grounding out to second. You appreciate the dominance of the pitcher, but you wish you saw a bit more action. (Nothing against Sampras by the way, he was simply the best of that era.)
The thing is, tennis isn’t like that anymore. As the Australian Open Final showed, tennis is now lots of action. Points can last for minutes and we have been blessed to have three of the best players ever to play the game all near the top of their games at the same time. Between Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, you have 31 Grand Slam titles. Federer ranks first overall with sixteen, Nadal is fourth with ten and Djokovic (the youngest of the three) is tied for twelfth with five titles. It’s an amazing collection of talent and apart from the 2009 US Open, they have combined to win every Grand Slam title since the 2005 Australian Open!
We should be soaking in this run of excellence because it is truly a rarity. Yet, tennis hardly enters the consciousness of American fans. It’s a shame because they are really missing something.