One of the events of the summer that gets me through until hockey season starts again is the Championships at Wimbledon. I’ve watched the tennis matches every year for as long as I can remember. Since I had the holiday, July 4, off from work, I took two vacation days on Thursday and Friday to see as much of the tournament as I could.
Because I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, I have so much admiration for sports people who have such talent and work so hard to get to the top of their sports. Even though tennis is individual and hockey is a team sport, I see similarities and maybe that’s why I can enjoy tennis so much. This year’s men’s final was every bit as exciting as a Stanley Cup final. If you are a sports fan, you had to enjoy this classic battle between two of the best.
The final for 2007 came down to the number one and number two ranked players in the tournament, Roger Federer from Switzerland and Rafael Nadal from Spain. Their simmering rivalry took another step this summer. Fans can look forward to being treated to many more exciting matches between these guys for a long time.
I would compare the smooth Federer to a hockey player like Steve Yzerman. Both are competitive yet calm and sure of themselves, steady and reliable. Excited when they win, without a doubt, but they are players who demand the best from themselves. Just as Yzerman could place a puck in the corner of a net, Federer can place a tennis ball inside a line with the least possible margin for error. In both sports, eye-hand coordination is a valuable component. Whether they are swinging a racquet or a hockey stick, they make it look so easy.
Nadal reminds me of Sidney Crosby - young, eager, intense and fiery. They are each dedicated to fitness and will let nothing stand in the way of their ambitions. At the Wimbledon finals against Federer, Nadal hit a shot as he fell. He landed on his posterior as the shot managed to stay inside the baseline. This play was quite similar to a goal Crosby scored last season against Dallas - falling down, ending up in the same position as Nadal and watching the puck fall in behind the goalie.
In hockey and in tennis, players from all over the globe compete against each other. I sometimes wonder how hockey players from Korea or tennis players from Serbia get to be so good. I wonder who inspired them, when and how. I love the melting pot of sports that brings people and countries together.
The fortnight (two week) tennis tournament could be a microcosm of the hockey season. The tennis players don’t play 82 separate matches, but there are many matches played every day (including women, doubles, juniors) that I’m sure the total is higher than 82. Everyone plays against each other until only the top two are left standing to face off. During the hockey and tennis seasons, luck and injuries play a part. In this rain-drenched Wimbledon, bad luck found some players who had to play long matches day after day, draining them of the ability to continue at the level at which they wanted to compete.
In hockey, extended road trips, several games in a week, or long overtime games in the playoffs can have the same affect on players. Despite all their training, their bodies can betray them when they need their stamina the most. We’ve all heard the stories of players taking IVs during extended overtimes to replace fluids.
In both sports, the fans are similar in their zeal. In hockey, fans follow their home team while in tennis, especially at Wimbledon, the fans are students of the game. They may have a favorite player or cheer for the underdog, but the beauty of the sport is what’s on display. They love the tradition, the passion and the history. In that way, the fans in Montreal remind me the most of those at Wimbledon. The Canadians’ tradition and rich history of players and Cups are on display in their arena as a reminder of what has gone before.
I guess the biggest difference between the two sports is the playing “field”. In tennis, it can be grass, clay, hard courts or carpet. But whether it’s ice or grass, winter or summer, the thrills fans experience at the hands of the athletes of both these great sports, are incomparable. When the gold trophy is raised at Wimbledon or when the Stanley Cup is raised in any NHL city, we fans can share a tiny bit of the excitement the players do, even klutzes like me!