Individual and team sports are very different animals. Teams sports originate as a metaphor for war between villages and work as a training ground of societal virtues. While excellence and leadership are valued highly; togetherness, mutual benefit, and a responsibility of the individual to use their gifts to benefit the group are paramount. For a team to be great, the whole must be larger than the sum of its parts. It just doesn’t work otherwise. Behind every Michael Jordan there’s a Scottie Pippen. For a team to be good, all it needs is a star. For a team to be great, it needs a lot more, regardless of whether or not that ‘more’ gets headlines or not.
Individual sports on the other hand, are the fight and not the war. They are beholden to the pursuit of personal achievement and individual glory. Individual sports know nothing of passes, assists, caring, sharing, of leadership, example, SOCIETY. Individual sports are an existential staring competition with personal failure. There is no modesty, no blame, no ‘the boys’. There is only you, the Other, the winning, the losing.
The 2008 Wimbledon Championships Gentlemens Singles Final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer is both our Game of the Year and the Best Individual Sport Match of 2008. In what has quickly gone down in history as the Greatest Tennis Match of All Time, Rafa and Roger valiantly fought it out in a match that had everything one could want from a Wimbledon Final:
Nadal took the first two sets in assured fashion 6-4 6-4 and at 3-3, 0-40 up (on Federer’s serve) looked poised to take it home in all 4’s. Federer took the next five points straight and came back to win the rain-delayed set in a tie-breaker (7-5). The fourth went to a tie-breaker as well, with Nadal earning two championship points only to have Federer claw his way back first with a winning serve and then a momentus backhand winner when Nadal served for the match. At 2-2 in the fifth there was further rain-delays but when they returned both players struggled to break serve and at 7-7 Nadal took Federer’s serve and held his own to take the match 6-4 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-7 (8-10) 9-7.
Four hours and 48 minutes of play, six hours 40 minutes total, this was the finest possible games between what is becoming (has become?) one of the greatest on-court rivalries in tennis history. Roger Federer is the classicist, the perfect player – The Best Player Ever – the guy that every coach in the world is telling his/her players to watch in slow-motion. Nadal is the post-Agassi modernist, the firey baseliner who has the blessed ability to beat perfection – Nadal is 4-2 against Federer in Grand Slam finals and 12-6 overall. “It’s disappointing for me that I am in the same time as the best player in history such as Roger Federer,” Nadal said after his historic win. For Nadal to say that about a rival he had just beaten and has beaten more times than not bodes very well for quality of tennis expected over the few years.