If I have one sport, it's tennis. It's the sport that I played best as a kid, the one I kept an interest in until adulthood, the one whose legends I saw when I was young. I'm not saying I was great or anything; I was just OK, but it was my best sport and the one that I liked the most.
For many years, late in August and early September, I would go to the U.S. Open (and the U.S. Nationals before the Open era) with my family, my Big Brother, and with – in the lingo of my novel WHAT IT WAS LIKE -- the "Doggies" I went to summer camp with. First, at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, and later at the U.S. Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows.
I was lucky enough to see many of the all-time greats including Rod Laver (the greatest player of all time: two complete Grand Slams, seven years apart, and he was banned for five of the intervening years), Billie Jean King (when she was still Billie Jean Moffitt), Arthur Ashe, John Newcombe, Chrissie Evert, Martina Navatilova, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and a dozens of others.
I saw Connors beat Ivan Lendl in the 1982 U.S. Open Final, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, the only final I've ever seen in person. It was Connors' 7th career Grand Slam title and his 4th U.S. Open win. As remarkably, it was one of the eight consecutive U.S. Open Finals that Lendl played in.
So naturally I'm watching Wimbledon on TV now and having a grand old time. I'm a sports-on-TV watcher anyway, but especially I love the Grand Slams. Sometimes I have to Tivo on both ESPN and ESPN 2 to catch all the action. This year, the women's and men's draws couldn't be more different.
What can you say about Serena Williams except that she's getting better as her competition is getting worse. Early in her career, she had to contend with excellent players like Justin Henin, Kim Clijsters, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, and others. Nowadays, there is nobody to challenge Serena (if she's anywhere on her game.) She dismantled Maria Sharapova in the semifinals in what seemed like a Final. What fine young woman is she going to embarrass in the actual Final? I see that her name is Garbine Muguruza, and beat Serena once. I don't see it happening again this weekend.
Certainly, Serena is a great champion, certainly in the conversation for Greatest Of All Time. From the looks of things, she could keep beating these other players for years to come. She's halfway to a Grand Slam this year. She might go on forever, or as long as she wants.
On the men's side, it's different. There are Federer and Djokovic and maybe Andy Murray and maybe not Nadal anymore, but at least there's some steady competition at the top. A Federer-Djokovic final is fine with me!! It will be good viewing this weekend.
Here's some good viewing of the players I saw – and a few that I haven't seen ... yet:
Rod Laver documentary
Laver vs. Newcombe in the 1969 Wimbledon final
Arthur Ashe upsets Jimmy Connors in the 1975 Wimbledon final
Chris Evert upsets Martina Navratilova in the 1980 Wimbledon semi-finals
Serena wins the 2010 Wimbledon Final
Serena beats Lindsay Davenport in the 2005 Final – one of the all-time great matches
Roger Federer's instant classic "tweener-lob" against Sam Quarrie
Roger Federer's Top Ten "exhibition shots" – like Pistol Pete Maravich with a racquet
After I moved to SoCal, I stopped seeing live tennis except for a Davis Cup match that I took my tennis-fiend mother to so that she could see her current favorite player, Andre Agassi, play live. The bonus was that her all-time favorite player John McEnroe was the Davis Cup coach.
I don't play tennis anymore. I walk and do yoga three times a week. But I still love tennis: the way it displays the physical and the mental sides of sport. I love the direct competition between two great athletes. I always call it "long distance boxing."
So how much does tennis mean to me? ... The Tiny Goddess took tennis lessons (along with the Flower) just so she could play tennis with me.
If that's not love, what is?