Great Tennis Became Great Art

When sports junkies describe the games we love as art, the Rafael Nadal–Roger Federer final at last year's Wimbledon is what we mean. It stretched across an entire Sunday, including five hours of much-needed, nerve-settling rain delays—one stupefying rally after another. I don't think I've ever said "Oh, my God" so many times in a single day. The match began at about 9 a.m. here in New York, and I woke up to Nadal steamrolling the champ in the first two sets. Tennis's long-awaited changing of the guard was unfolding with little drama. Then the rains came. Time for brunch. I watched on a restaurant TV as the match turned on a dime. Federer lives! A roaring comeback! More rain. Brunch turned into afternoon beers. An exhilarating fifth set. The dawning, goose-fleshy awareness that we were—clichés groan to life—watching history. As dusk crept over England, it seemed as if the match would have to be suspended for darkness. A cruel, truncated joke of a Monday after this towering Sunday. But then, with thunderclap suddenness, it was over. Nadal won and crumbled to the grass. My favorite part: NBC's John McEnroe, no font of modesty, was so awed, so humbled by what he'd seen that he bearhugged both players as they walked off the court—even though he knew the match had eclipsed his own 1981 classic against Björn Borg. In 2008, Nadal-Federer at Wimbledon was the best movie I saw, the best novel I read, the best symphony I heard. It was better than art. It was a masterpiece.

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