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Posted: Wednesday July 9, 2008 4:28PM; Updated: Wednesday July 9, 2008 5:18PM
Jon Wertheim Jon Wertheim >
TENNIS MAILBAG

Without a doubt, it's the greatest

Story Highlights
  • The Wimbledon final was the greatest tennis match of all time
  • The high quality women's final was unjustly rendered an afterthought
  • Officials made the right call by not suspending the match at 7-7 in the fifth
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The debate started immediately -- was this the greatest match of all time?
The debate started immediately -- was this the greatest match of all time?
Antoine Couvercelle/ICON SMI
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That was unquestionably one of the greatest tennis matches I have ever witnessed. But let's digest it a little bit and let the heat of the moment pass before we dub it "the greatest of all time." This one had a lot at stake, with a lot of underlying stories attached to it on the most prestigious stage in all of the sport. But I'm not ready to dismiss Agassi-Blake in the 2005 Open quarters just because we saw a match of its equal.
-- Steve, New York, NY

I generally try not to get caught up in the Superlatives Sweepstakes. But I'm going unequivocal on this one: the 2008 Wimbledon men's final was THE greatest match of all-time. Period. You had an impossibly rich -- Shakespearean, even -- subtext. You had two gentlemen. A dazzling rivalry. One versus two. Lefty versus righty. In the Wimbledon finals -- the friggin' Wimbledon finals! Then the match is of the highest quality. And it had everything: serves, returns, shot-making, net play speed, power, grace, alternating momentum, mental strength, injury, acts of God. With literally seconds to go before darkness, the match is won 9-7 in the fifth. Add those ingredients, put it in the Bass-o-matic and you've got an unrivalled sporting event.

There were hundreds of questions about the match and its aftermath and I'm sure we'll discuss in the weeks to come, but here are four overarching points.

No. 1 -- "The greatest" is obviously a term that resists a single definition. But I think the importance of the match and the nature of the competitors has to be considered strongly. Blake-Agassi, for instance, was great theater; but it was only the quarters and one of the players had never come close to winning a Slam. No way does that top two guys in the Wimbledon gunning for their 17th career Major.

No. 2 -- Most of you had reasonable, civil, thoughtful responses to the match. As with most issues in this world, it's the 10 percent who are extremists on both sides that spoil it. The "haters" who are throwing dirt on Federer's professional grace are nuts. Even in this "vulnerable" year, he's reached the semis of one Slam and the finals of two others. He's 26. He came a few points from winning Wimbledon. He showed courage in defeat. A little perspective please. Same to the Federer loyalists who refuse to believe there's been a power shift. After years of domination, Federer has been challenged and now beaten at his "home" Slam. Clearly there are psychological wounds, too. Sunday's match was freighted with all sorts of significance and failing to give Nadal his due -- and claiming Federer will be unaffected -- is just silly.

No. 3 -- Can Nadal -- barely 22 and already a five-time Grand Slam-winner -- become the GOAT? Let's give this a little bit of time. The trajectory is encouraging, but I think it's still premature. (Aside: how wild is it that he's won FIVE slams and still hasn't been ranked No. 1?) Come back to me when he wins a hard court Slam and then we can have a serious discussion.

No. 4 -- Emotions ran high and with good reason. But let's all pull back and just consider ourselves thankful for a moment. Thankful to have been treated to such a mesmerizing match and to have such an exhilarating rivalry in our midst. My strong suspicion is that neither Federer nor Nadal is done winning. So pick a side. Or pick both sides. But try and keep in mind how fortunate we are for them both.

I thought the ladies' final was amazing, but the men's final just blew me away! Both players played astounding, lights-out tennis on (arguably) the biggest stage and with so much at stake! What kind of effect will this have on the Djokovics and Roddicks of ATP? Will it spur them on to greater heights? Or will the brilliance of both players during this match somehow cause other players to subconsciously settle for second best behind these two amazing players?
-- Rhys, Singapore

I want to stop at the first sentence of your letter. I feel for Venus and Serena. In addition to reaching the finals (again), they played a match that was exceptionally high in quality. Obviously, their final was rendered a bit of an afterthought by the Nadal-Federer classic, but let's take a second to give some well-deserved props to Williams-Williams. Good, I feel better. Where were we?

Oh right: I think that's a good question. If I'm, say Djokovic, half of me is relieved that Federer is starting look increasingly mortal. The other half wonders if the Nadal Express won't become just as formidable a machine and asks, "Why couldn't I have been playing in 2002 when Tommy Johansson and Al Costa were winning Majors?"

After Sunday, one would think that Federer's humiliation from the French carried over to Wimbledon. Very little has been said about his incredible comeback and staving off two match points. With a modicum of luck, he could've won. I hope Mats Wilander thinks differently about Roger's nether regions now.
-- Neil Grammer, Toronto

Totally agree. I wrote in SI magazine that Federer revealed as much about himself in losing than he did in victory. Coming from two sets down and staving off match points to get into a fifth set -- that's guts. And speaking of guts: Nadal has match points to win his first Wimbledon, squanders them, and -- instead of turning into blood pudding as most players would -- comes back to win 9-7 in the fifth? Say what you will about his muscles. His real strength is internal.

Is Wimbledon the only major tournament where the players' guests are sitting in the same box? While it works perfect when the Williams sisters are playing each other, it couldn't have been more awkward for the men's final when Nadal celebrated with his family only feet away from Federer's. Not saying Nadal shouldn't be sharing the moment with his loved ones, but it seems kind of humiliating for Federer's family to have front row seats for the celebration.
-- Blake Redabaugh, Denver, CO

Good for you for noticing. How awkward was that? The Federer clan -- and I assume the higher seed gets the front row -- was directly behind the Nadal Posse. Even at the end, Nadal had to bypass Federer's parents -- who, let the record reflect, sought to offer congratulations -- before hugging Uncle Toni and the rest of the hombres. Socially awkward, much?

Long lost siblings ... Jude Law and the guy in Federer's box next to Mirka (unless that WAS Jude Law).
-- Dushyant Narayen, Sunnyvale, CA

• That was Gavin Rossdale, who plays Mirka to Gwen Stefani's Federer. (Romantically involved with a partner in the same line of work.) I give him props for being so involved in the match. Clearly he knows his tennis.

What was more amazing: the epic men's final itself or the fact that Gwen Stefani, a guest in Federer's Friend's Box, appeared absolutely bored out of her skull while witnessing firsthand one of the greatest events in the history of sport?
-- Jay Zavislak, Phoenix, AZ

• No doubt. She was trapped in a Box. "Don't speak."

It's too presumptuous to think Henin would have made a difference at Wimby if she had not retired. Don't forget she struggled to get past a seriously injured Serena last year in three sets, despite having won a tune-up the previous week. After having been crushed by the likes of Sharapova, Serena and Safina earlier this year and left holding bagels and breadsticks, she is hardly a favourite to defend her more than 3,000 points this season. The retirement was not a surprise.
-- Dani, Signapore

• Do I think Henin beats the Williams sisters at Wimbledon in 2008? Probably not. Especially not Venus, who'd simply overpower her. I give Henin a better shot at Serena who a) Henin's tended to beat in recent years and b) can grow frustrated when her groundstrokes go "off the boil" as the Aussies say. Still, Henin would have been right there in the mix contending, particularly with the top four seeds dropping out. I think most top players quit when they know in their heart of hearts, they can't compete for Majors. Once you've been at the top, you don't stick around so you can win Umag. In Henin's case, she was still very much a contender.

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