Sunday, July 06, 2008

Just Tennis

NBC calls the final weekend of its coverage of Wimbledon "Breakfast at Wimbledon." Rain delays stretched the men's final almost to dinner time. The fact that the match went five dramatic sets before Rafael Nadal unseated the five-time defending champion Roger Federer helped too.

I watched most of it, though the weather breaks did not always correspond to my breaks for a nap and a trip to the gym.

During one of the stoppages, NBC replayed the women's doubles final yesterday won by Venus and Serena Williams. That match happened a few hours after Venus defeated Serena for the singles title. The two of them won a combined $2.5 million for their labors on the lawns at the All England Club.

It reminded me of watching yesterday's Williams vs. Williams match, which marked the seventh time the sisters had met in the finals of a Grand Slam tournament. Although the Williamses have combined to win 15 Grand Slam events, NBC commentator Mary Carillo criticized them for their lack of singular devotion to their sport. Steffi Graf, she pointed out, won 22 Slams by herself. Venus and Serena could have become "the Tiger Woods of tennis," she said, if only they didn't spend so much time on their interests outside of tennis.

"This is where they belong," Carillo said.


Really. Why? What difference does it make whether they total 15 major championships or 50? So what if they'd be known as the greatest tennis players ever? It's still just tennis. Whether Tiger Woods surpasses Jack Nicklaus as the greatest golfer ever, it's still just golf. Seems the Williams sisters have a wisdom about life that even the brightest observers of the game lack. If their greatest achievements on Earth happen on a tennis court, what a shame that will be.

As it is, they have won enough events to become icons of the game, won enough money to live comfortably for the rest of their lives and won enough attention to have a bully pulpit for any cause they want to champion. What more do they need?

This has less to do with their needs than those of people who invest too much of themselves watching them.

I realized this when I watched Justine Henin quit during the final of the 2006 Australian Open because of stomach pain. Afterward, reporters practically begged her to explain how she could give up in any circumstance short of death. "Doesn't it mean enough to you?" they asked. Implied in their voices was that it meant that much to them.

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