June 5, 2009

Doing Their Dirty Work

As much as I love a really good fight on the battlefield, I have a tendency -- for my favorites -- to root for an easy road to victory.

Don't get me wrong -- I love the excitement of overtime or extra innings and a fifth set with match points on either side of the net. But, like a protective mother, I often hope that my team is never in danger of losing.

Take, for example, Wimbledon, 1995.

My all-time favorite Pete Sampras, ranked and seeded #2 in the world, was out for his third straight title in England. But in his way was top dog and long-time rival Andre Agassi. Though at that point, Pete had the slight 8-7 record against his friend, Andre was playing some of the best tennis of his life -- having beaten Sampras in the finals at Melbourne and Miami earlier that year.

Their matches were always phenomenal and put on a show unlike many others. Even still I was worried that Andre's hard hitting and obvious tenacity would be too much for Pete, who had already lost sets to unknown players like Karsten Braasch and Shuzo Matsuoka during the tournament. Sampras had a lot on the line at Wimbledon and Agassi was a huge threat. So I prayed for someone else to clear the way for him and get rid of Agassi before Pete had to face him.

And that's just what Boris Becker did.

In one of the best matches I've ever seen, the fourth-seeded German took Agassi to four sets in their semifinal match, out-aced him twenty-two to four, and scored the upset in just under three hours. But just as I expected Becker wasn't able to maintain his dominance when he met Pete in the finals. After getting Andre out of the way, he made it pretty easy for Pete to, well, three-peat.

Okay, maybe the world was denied a great matchup in the final, but I didn't care. The win put Pete on his way to acheiving tennis history -- a legend that has endured to this day.

I wonder if that's how Roger Federer and Dinara Safina feel this year.

Now I've been as loud as anyone hoping for another Roger-Rafa Slam final, but Federer had to know that if he was going to win the French Open, someone else would have to take out Rafael Nadal. They've met here four times before and Federer has only taken three sets -- none of them in the same match.

Of course I wondered whether winning here would mean as much if he didn't get to face Nadal. Assuming Roger even makes the final, we probably won't get the championship match we've become accustomed to here. But hell, the road to a record-tying fourteen Majors and a career Grand Slam -- something Pete never acheived -- must seem a lot less bumpy now that Robin Soderling was able to do what Federer seemingly could not.

Dinara Safina is on the same boat, though her goal is ever-so-slightly less lofty. She's been to two Grand Slam finals, but never won a title. She claimed the world #1 ranking even though she'd lost her last three matches to the woman she took it from, Serena Williams . She's won eleven Tour titles, just a third of her biggest rival's. Of course she's been successful -- she's just looking to prove herself on a bigger scale.

So Dinara has to be happy that she won't have to meet her nemesis in Paris -- countrywoman Svetlana Kuznetsova took care of that for her in the quarterfinals. Even though she earned two titles on clay in the weeks leading up to Roland Garros, the prospect of her first Grand Slam championship is probably a lot brighter today.

In any case, Roger and Dinara certainly owe a big debt of gratitude to their fellow competitors in Paris -- it could have been a lot harder for them to acheive their ends here. And while the matchups may not be what we wished to see, I'm hoping that they all put on a show that is deserving of the title!

1 comment:

Kavitha said...

Well as we now know, Roger did make his fourth consecutive final at Roland Garros, though he did give us quite a scare -- he got down 1 set to 2 to Juan Martin Del Potro in the semis, never having broken the Argentine's serve.

So now he gets to meet Robin Soderling in the final -- their tenth matchup. I suppose it's only fitting he face the man who took out the man who Roger couldn't take out himself.

Maybe it won't be the ultimate matchup, but at least we can rest assured it'll be a good one!