Saturday, September 20, 2008

Greatest Match Ever?

(Image from Wikipedia)

I finally got around to seeing the much talked about Wimbledon final between five time defending champion Roger Federer and third time (consecutive!) finalist Rafael Nadal. It has been hailed as one of the, if not the, greatest tennis matches ever played. I can't claim to have seen more than a mere handful of the great matches from tennis history so I'm not really qualified to comment on its relative merit, but as far as I'm concerned it is undeniably a classic. Right from the opening point the game is competitive, and the whole match is populated by lengthy rallies full of powerful and accurate groundstrokes.

It ended up being the longest men's final in Wimbledon history, justifying the pre-match hype where it was talked up as a historic confrontation by virtue of the caliber of the two players and the records that were at stake. Plus, it was seen as an unofficial battle for the crown of Number 1 player in the world and possibly an end to an era of tennis dominated by Federer. I'd say that in terms of being momentous and dramatic it is certainly the best match that I have ever seen; a true event match if ever there was one. But... but I'm not convinced that the tennis on display was the greatest ever.

Again, I may not be qualified to comment, but as a point of comparison I also recently watched the '93 Wimbledon final between Pete Sampras and Jim Courier. Now, this one isn't - as far as I'm aware - hailed as a classic, but the tennis was still exciting and varied. There were big serves, serve volleying aplenty, rallies, passing shots, drop shots, smashes, half vollies and even the occasional lob! Contrast this with the Nadal-Federer match, in which despite the excellent quality of play every point seemed to follow a very predictable pattern of hitting from the baseline. Five sets worth!

Don't get me wrong, it was a terrific match, and the quality of play was tremendous. I'm just a little sceptical about calling it the greatest match ever, at least in terms of the tennis that was played. The greatest match in terms of significance to the game and resultant drama, perhaps... I just think the media and commentators have a tendency to blow things out of proportion at any given opportunity, and it's a little early to name this one 'greatest ever'.

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