Nadal has done it – he’s the new Wimbledon Champion. It was a superlative tennis match. What an affirmation of sport and what an affirmation of tennis as the supreme spectator sport.
I should clear up my hour-old blogpost. The point which I was trying to make, but which I didn’t have the time to clearly articulate, is that although we often think that what we want is to see the plucky fighter triumphing, David defeating Goliath, an inversion of the order of things, the crumbling of power – we don’t really. We find something comforting in the existing order; we favour elites and prefer established ways of doing things. The artistry of the special individual is what we prize, not the heroic insurgency. That said, just wait for the coverage tomorrow – no one will agree with me. Nadal will be feted and celebrated as if he were God made incarnate. The media will fawn furiously.
Questions will remain, though. A massive argument will rage about whether or not Nadal has dethroned Federer as the world’s premier player. And even if he has people will ask if Nadal has really defeated Federer, the genuine Federer, the player who has dominated world tennis for the last five years. For many Federer did not start the 2008 season the same player that he ended 2007 as: he entered it as a diminished force, a depleted approximation of the hegemon of men’s tennis. Some will argue that whatever Nadal has achieved today, he did not defeat that Federer. He won – and it was a remarkable victory – but he may have beaten an ersatz Federer, a twilight Federer no longer able to do the things that once he could.
There can be no questions, though, about the entertainment value of tennis at its best. This was a remarkable spectacle. For five hours of almost unbearable excitement we got to watch the most enthralling adversarial conflict, encircled by an atmosphere-creating crowd. Tennis is such an involving spectator sport because it gives you a succession of fever pitch moments the outcome of which is determined by fractions and because it embellishes them with contrasting, tension-building pauses. This match was more than just today’s battle, though: it was a culminating point in a great sporting rivalry, a high-point in a conflict that has lasted for several years now. This was sport enacting a human narrative in a remarkable ritual occasion. It’s no good: I can’t find the words to convey the overwhelming power of this game.