Sunday, July 5, 2009

Well, I’m Back – Thanks to All; Sports’ Special Place; Federer’s Historic Day is Roddick’s Heartbreaker

Well, I’m back.

I don’t know if I’m any wiser but I sure am grateful—grateful the blockages in my heart were discovered during a routine stress test and not after a heart attack; grateful to my friends and family who rallied to my side during the past week and to everyone who posted here or sent good wishes in one form or another. I know when people get sick they talk later about how overwhelmed they were by the kindness of people but it really is true. I am overwhelmed by it all.

I am very lucky to have the family I have and the friends from so many walks of life that I have. I sit here feeling lucky to be alive, to be able to hug my kids and to be able to write a week after septuple bypass surgery. (Friends have kidded me that I’m so competitive I had to have seven, not just three or four).

One thing I was reminded of during my hospital stay was one of the reasons sports IS important. It isn’t that crisis puts sports in perspective it’s that sports gives us a much needed diversion during crisis. On Monday night, while I was still in the ICU I was able to watch some television. Even hearing the stale sportscenter one-liners was a relief. Hearing Tiger Woods claim that his learning center in California has helped TEN MILLION people made me laugh out loud and made me think the drugs must seriously affecting my brain. Did he say ten million? Yes, I learned later, he did say ten million. Even watching the Mets do their Keystone Kops act was better than staring at the clock.

So, Thank God for sports—the good, the bad, the ridiculous.

On Sunday, we saw something that was better than good. I almost never regret my decision 15 years ago to focus on covering golf rather than tennis. Not only have I greatly enjoyed reporting and writing about golf but tennis is by far the most frustrating sport there is to cover because of our lack of access to the athletes and the mind-numbing lack of organization in the sport.

One day a year I miss covering tennis. It’s always the day of the men’s final at Wimbledon. With all due respect to the greatness of The Williams sisters a best-of-three match that often last less than 90 minutes simply can’t have the drama of a five set marathon in which both players are still hitting winners four hours after the match has started.

There is also the uniqueness of Wimbledon. There’s no tennis venue anything like it—even with the new sliding roof—and very few sports venues that are comparably dramatic. Plus, there are no thanks to corporate sponsors during the awards ceremonies. Can you imagine with the score 14-all in the fifth set, Ted Robinson saying, “let’s go courtside to Jimmy Roberts who is with the CEO of AT+T.”

Jimmy: “Mr. CEO, another great Wimbledon, you must be so proud.”

CEO: “Jimmy, on behalf of all of us at AT+T we’re proud to be associated with Tiger and this great event.”

Whoops, wrong sport.

Wimbledon finals produce unique drama. Once a fifth set begins, you never know when it will end. Unlike the U.S. Open, where the fifth set can be decided in a tiebreak, someone has to break serve to win. Tiebreaks can be dramatic but, as difficult as it was for Andy Roddick to lose, he did not lose the match without losing serve. He lost it once—the 38th time he served.

Roger Federer is one of those athletes you just don’t root against. He’s brilliant, he’s a superb competitor, he has class and dignity and he now has 15 major championships—more than any man in history.

But if your heart didn’t go out to Roddick on Sunday, you have no heart. (Mine is working just fine, thank-you). Here’s why it’s truly sad that Roddick may never win Wimbledon: he could easily be mailing it in by now. He won the U.S. Open in 2003, he’s made millions, his wife is a gorgeous model and he could put his career on cruise control at 27, say that Federer and Rafael Nadal are just a little too good and be a top ten player for another five years.

But he hasn’t taken that route. He’s changed coaches and training regimens. He’s lost weight and worked on his ground strokes. He’s gotten tougher mentally as he proved in the semis when he outlasted Scotland’s Andy Murray in front of a crowd that would have made Cameron Indoor Stadium feel like a walk in the park for a road team.

He was SO close against Federer. He had four set points for a two set lead in the second and blew them all. He had two break points in the fifth and couldn’t convert. Federer kept hitting winners; Roddick kept answering. The number of times Roddick HAD to come up with a first serve and did was almost uncountable. It was great, great tennis.

And, in the end, Federer was a little better, a little tougher.

Roddick couldn’t have handled it with more grace. He apologized to Pete Sampras for not preventing Federer from breaking his all-time record for major wins. He thanked the crowd—which had pulled so vehemently against him two days earlier. And, when Federer said something about knowing how Roddick felt after his five set loss to Nadal a year ago he smiled and said, “no you don’t, you already had five (titles).”

It was all special stuff and when you saw the tears in Roddick’s eyes you really couldn’t help but hope there’s somehow a Wimbledon title out there for him in the future. He deserves it.

I was glad to have the chance to see it. REALLY glad.


Thomas said...

Roddick did a great job in that match. As he was sitting courtside after the match, fighting back the tears, you could feel how much he put into that match - it was great to see, but gut wrenching.

Sammy said...

John: Welcome back. I am interested in your view of the Steve McNair murder.
Will you blog about that


"Are you kidding me?" Back are tougher then Tiger and Roger!
welcome back...just finished you and Rocco...that another great one. Feel Better!!!

SWE said...

Welcome Back. I enjoy reading your comments on so many topics and like that you don't shy away from powerful targets. Here's another suggestion for a future blog: You have been named LPGA Commissioner for one day,
what would you do?

Barry from Peoria said...

John -- watching the Mets from the ICU? Don't the nurses know what that can do for fragile people, like we Mets fans?

Seriously, don't watch them. It is too painful and may make it difficult to separate actual heartache from the baseball kind.

No, seriously, it is good to know you're back and on the mend.

Best regards from a longtime reader and admirer.