What can be said that hasn't already been said? On a day that brought American soccer fans the most dramatic and important goal in our young history, tennis gave us an event that transcended the sport itself, instead morphing, with each game and minute that ticked by, a blink-and-you-won't-miss-it-but-you'll-never-see-this-again sporting event that left spectators riveted.
It all started innocuously enough. Nick and John, second on Court 18, took the court at 3:08pm. They would play one set to decide the match. It wasn't pretty tennis. Heck, I'm not entirely convinced it was tennis at all. There were no rallies and very little shot-making. But that didn't matter today. This wasn't about the sport of tennis. This was about courage, heart, and desire. Mind over matter. Bending without breaking. This was about sport.
The last few weeks have given us multi-millionaires from storied franchises taking center stage to win championships. We've seen the most famous and richest athletes in the world take center stage in South Africa and, with the world watching, bicker, dive, and fail to put egos aside in pursuit of individual glory. We saw Tigers and Phils standing within reach of history, only to buckle under the pressure on the coast of California.
And so, on a tiny court on the hallowed grounds of the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world, two men, neither household names, wearing non-descript white uniforms and carrying their equipment on their backs, took the court to finish their first round match at Wimbledon. The crowd was small at the beginning, but seven hours later the entire world would be watching as these two relatively unknown warriors, playing for nothing other than the right to progress to the second round, would push their minds, bodies, and each other to the brink.
For over seven hours neither man would lose two consecutive games. They would play 118 games. That's almost two five-setters (13 games x 5 sets x 2 matches) in one day. The fifth set alone, which remains uncompleted, was longer than any other full match in the history of tennis. The prior record? 6 hours and 33 minutes. There were no breaks of serve in the fifth set (and only 2 for the entire match). That's 59 straight holds each. All told, these two broke a slew of records.
And they're not even done.
Who knows what will happen when they take the court again tomorrow. The match could be over in 10 minutes, it could be over in another 10 hours. Again, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter how tanked these guys will be tomorrow or the rest of the tournament. What so impressed me today was their ability to reach back and find that big serve, forehand, or volley to get them out of a jam.
In the last few hours of the set, Halpert looked like he was going to topple over any second. He tried to conserve his energy a few times by hitting 90 mph serves into the box only to find, not surprisingly, that they weren't effective. So what did he do? He lumbered to the line, set his jaw, grimaced, and fired down a 120+ mph ace down the tee. Knowing that only his best would do, the kid delivered, game after game.
While Isner looked to hold with his serve and forehand, Nico was holding by serving big, dictating points, and getting to the net to finish off points. I kept waiting for him to lose his concentration or stumble with his footwork to muff some volleys to give John a chance. I don't remember him missing one. I don't know Nico's game well-enough to know how comfortable he is at the net. If he's comfortable up there than all credit to him for willing his legs and arms to get up quickly and finish with precision. If he's not, then even more credit to him for living on the edge and coming out on top every time. Either way, that's all desire and courage.
Two weeks ago, Francesca Schiavone showed us all what it looks like when a world-class athlete takes their chance, plays courageously, and refuses to buckle under the pressure. John and Nico made tennis fans proud today, setting an example for sportsmen everywhere. We have warriors from #1 to #148 who will battle.