(Wimbledon, England – Exclusive to BostonNow) Tennis fans and history buffs will long remmber what transpored in the Tennis Temple of Wimbledon this afternoon. For a pure expression of a sport at the highest peak of its possible performance, and an example of the indomitable competitive spirit, it would be hard to outdo the show put on by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal today on Centre Court of the All England Club.
As tennis is the quintessential confrontation of athelete on athelete, one-on-one, each armed with his weapon and his wiles, it is natural that in the land of the tennis legends the honor roll is read in pairs: Conners and McEnroe, Everet and Navratilova, Sampras and Aggasi, and now Federer and Nadal. They are bound together forever, to the benefit of both, each with his or her arch-nemesis on the other side of the net.
Today Federer won in five sets of magnificent tennis, making him only the second man (after Borg) in 100 years to win five in a row. The level of play was such as lesser players (everyone else in the world) can only dream of. Last year Federer won at Wimbleton. Earlier this summer Nadal won on clay at the French Open Final in Paris. With any luck we can look forward to years more of this struggle; Federer is just 26, Nadal 22.
Like all great sports rivalries, this one features a contrast in styles. If one accepts the theory of multiple intelligences, there are at least three types of intelligence involved in tennis at this level, and these guys are geniuses in all three. In the arena of physical genius, Nadal has the edge. The Spaniard is an animal, in the most magnificent sense of the word, leaping to attack every single ball unfortunate enough to venture into his lair. In the arena of intellectual genius, Federer reigns supreme. It is a marvel to watch his steel-edged Swiss mind analyze his opponents’ game during the first few games of a match, and then eviscerate and dissect them like a specimen on an examining table.
In the arena of emotional or spiritual genius they are evenly matched, each a mountain of indomitable energy, resolve and pure fighting spirit. Which is why, when they meet, it is a rare and exquisite treat. Any fan of sport in any of its forms should treasure these chances to witness two human beings performing at the highest level of their art and skill seen by man, up to this point.
The next chapter in this epochal struggle will probably be next month, in Queens. See you there.