The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Game, Set, Match

There’s something wonderfully pure about sports. For all the complexity of the game, for all the nuance of the performance, for all the raw power and subtle response, in the end, you either win or lose.

Yesterday, these attributes were exemplified at Wimbledon. Spain's Rafael Nadal defeated the five-time champion Roger Federer (Switzerland) 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (8-10), 9-7. The match was debatably the greatest ever played.

The thing that impressed me about both Nadal and Federer was their response to adversity. Both had opportunities to win early and frittered them away. Both faced defeat and didn’t crumble. To paraphrase an old Nike slogan (yes, both Nadal and Federer are sponsored by Nike), they exhibited “No Fear.”

Down Championship Point in the fifth set, Federer hit an impossible backhand winner (well, impossible for anyone but Federer or Nadal) to continue the match. Roger Federer didn’t hit a safe shot or make a conservative error. He went for the most difficult shot possible and pulled it off. He wasn’t afraid of lose. Nadal faced 13 break points and lost only one. That’s extreme mental toughness from a 22 year old.

But in the end, Federer summed up sports in general when he said: "In tennis, unfortunately there has to be winners and losers, there’s no draws."

There are many among the intelligentsia who distain sport, opting instead for a competition of the mind, for a duel of ideas. I suspect that the binary nature of sport (“…there has to be winners and losers, there’s no draws") is what troubles them most. In the end, you are master of your own fate, no third party can mediate, negotiate, or decide.

At the entrance to Wimbledon’s center court is a Rudyard Kipling stanza:

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on'

In watching both Nadal and Federer, I learned something about Will. So should we all.