We are in a philosophical mood. Life is usually defined in just a few moments. Often, these moments itself are pretty banal and/ or arbitrary, and only became obvious turning points with hindsight. Sometimes one realizes the consequences of these moments as they happen. Like life, investment life (believe us, we know) and sports careers, are usually also defined in just a few moments.
Sport has many analogies with life, only in a more concentrated form. It’s main attraction is that it is unscripted drama, with which we can identify and we can project our own hopes and fears into it. Today, we witnessed something extraordinary, although we did in fact expect it to happen (if you read us before here, you will recognize).
The best tennis player in the world, perhaps even the best that ever lived, could very well have experienced one of those few defining moments today. We quote another all-time great, Bjorn Borg: “if he wins, there will be no doubt he’s the best player that ever lived”. He did not win, alas.
But in our view, the real defining moment came only in it’s conclusion. Rafa Nadal who we’ve called, somewhat disrespectfully, a concentrated form of testosteron in this space a couple of weeks ago was, with the last amazing point, equaling that same Bjorn Borg’s record of four consecutive wins at Roland Garros.
You would expect he would be ecstatic. He was not. In fact, much closer to the truth is that he was hugely embarrassed. It has to be one of the most remarkable moments in sports of the last couple of decades. The least remarkable aspect is, of course, that we were wrong about him.
We did not misjudge his tennis capabilities (in fact, we were spot on), but his character. To realize what you’ve done to your adversary for sports history at the very same moment you achieve your own greatest triumph, that’s just extraordinary. It shows a character and respect that’s rare in today’s society that’s all about winning.
Not only does it show a maturity and sensitivity (we might even say culture), but perhaps the most important aspect is that it contains the seed of things to come, which he was realizing at that very same moment. A concentrated moment, a defining moment.
Fast forward to the coming Wimbledon final. There is every chance the same two players will face one another again, although there is a certain Serb that might not buy into this argument. Now, sport at the highest level has such small margins that it is often decided by mental factors.
Nadal has been much closer to beating Federer on grass than Federer has been to beating Nadal on clay (although he did beat him once, last year in Hamburg). It’s impossible to imagine that today’s trouncing, not to say humiliation, will not have an effect.
Nadal must be well and truly under his skin. In fact, this year we’ve seen Federer waiste huge advantages (5-1 in a first set, for instance), and in the third set today, he just gave up. He also realized they were playing one of those defining moments.
And it’s very difficult if you’re not only play against a wall, but against history as well, and history doesn’t seem to be on your side. Even the best, perhaps even the best of all time, will have a hard time coping with that.
When he was introduced as ‘Roger Federer’ to say something at the end of the match, there was a little voice coming out, “that’s me.” For once, it was not good to be Roger Federer. He almost sounded as if apologizing for it.
We think we have witnessed the end of an era. He will still win tournaments, but his most remarkable, most stylish, most sportsmanlike iron grip on world tennis will be over.