Who says tennis is dead? ESPN The Magazine columnist Bill Simmons said as much several weeks ago in a harsh diatribe previewing Wimbledon: "When did you last have an argument about something tennis-related that didn't boil down to 'Who do you think is hotter?'" But after 4 hours and 48 minutes of on-court magnificence July 6 courtesy of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the word is out: Tennis lives.
The overnight rating for the Wimbledon men's final drew the largest U.S. viewership in eight years and jumped 44 percent from last year's pairing of the same two competitors. Despite three rain delays, which stretched the contest to an all-day affair, millions tuned in the NBC broadcast to witness what commentator and three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe called "the greatest match I've ever seen."
After claiming the opening two sets, the challenger Nadal watched his massive advantage slowly slip away. Chasing his sixth consecutive Wimbledon crown, Federer survived three championship points en route to taking sets 3 and 4 in tiebreakers.
But the 22-year-old Nadal rallied to victory in the fifth set as dusk settled on center court at the All England Club. The animated Spaniard fell to his back upon winning the final point, a sign of the emotional and physical energy spent in defeating the Tiger Woods of tennis on a natural-grass surface. Federer had not lost on grass in 65 straight matches, including 40 at Wimbledon.
Having wiped the court with Federer only a month earlier on the clay of the French Open, Nadal now legitimately can claim superiority in his sport-no matter that the official rankings have yet to bear out that new pecking order. But Federer, 26, remains in his prime, setting up a rivalry that could duplicate the attention-grabbing Borg-McEnroe and Agassi-Sampras duels of years past.
And the signs of tennis life stretch far beyond its professional ranks: A recent report from the Tennis Industry Association indicates sales of youth racquets have climbed by 80 percent over the past five years. Now those young athletes can not only play, but also watch and cheer and dream.
Trial by fire
The Olympic Games in Beijing aren't set to open until Aug. 8, but for many American athletes the toughest, most pressure-packed competition is already over. The U.S. Olympic trials, the sole determinant in many sports for selection to the national team, require as much focus, training, and exertion as the games themselves.
That process forces some athletes to reach peak performance levels too soon. And occasionally, the do-or-die format leaves the best American hopes for a medal off the team. At this year's track and field trials, sprinters Allyson Felix and Tyson Gay failed to qualify in events for which both are recognized as among the world's best. In swimming, Erik Vendt stumbled to a fourth-place finish in the 1,500-meter freestyle after breaking the meet record in a preliminary heat.
Such results raise questions as to whether selection by committee would constitute a better option. But no perfect process exists: A committee responsible for selecting much of the men's gymnastics team has twice relegated Raj Bhavsar to alternate status, despite superb performances at the trials.
After 41 seasons in Seattle, the Sonics have relocated to Oklahoma City, devastating NBA fans in the Pacific Northwest and prompting a rash of finger pointing. The biggest target for the blame game: Gov. Christine Gregoire. That political impact could provide some measure of consolation for Republicans in the state. GOP gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, who lost an election four years ago after two recounts gave Gregoire only a 129-vote victory, has blasted the incumbent for failing to work out a deal to keep the team in town.