Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Dutch Treat for Tennis Fans

Federer and Blake Elicit Wows in Macau


The Old School/New School Showdown of Champions

Cable channel surfing last night, I came across a tennis match between Roger Federer and James Blake in Macau, the former Dutch colony near Hong Kong in Southeast China. I watched with interest because, even though Federer pretty much owns the young American in head-to-head play, the world No. 10-ranked Blake famously beat the now-No. 2-ranked Federer in Beijing at the Summer Olympics to deny Roger's bid for a Gold medal in singles. Federer won this Far East rematch 6-4, 6-4, but the score didn't come anywhere near reflecting the closeness of the match or the amazingly high quality of play between the two superstars - or the fun.

Yes, fun! Tennis is considered a dull, elitist sports by most of the world, yet this was the "loosest" two sets of tennis I had ever seen in terms of entertainment. If only more tennis matches were played with the carefree abandon and risk-taking of this match! It was quite a treat after the nail-biting tension involved in watching the Baltimore Ravens eke out a 13-10 win over the Tennesee Titans in the NFL playoffs only hours before (yes, I watched a football game - I'm not a fan, but I'll root the Ravens on in the playoffs, if only for economic recovery reasons - these games really help beer sales at liquor stores and ensure packed houses at area bars and restaurants!)


Roger plays "Spin the Racquet," Mac and Borg travel back in time

Federer and Blake smiled and joked between points, made countless between the legs shots, and even showed off their racquet-spinning skills. James Blake is a fairly emotional fist-pumper, but I had never seen Roger "Mr. Cool" Federer incite a crowd to start clapping before. Wait a second...was this is some sort of exhibition match, I wondered? Indeed it was, a Tennis Channel encore presentation of the November 2008 East Asian "Showdown of Champions" exhibition series in Kuala Lumpur (Maylasia's capital city) and Macau (which holds the dstinction of being both the first and the last European colony in China) that paired matches between current stars Federer and Blake with a Classics Redux edition pitting 49-year-old John McEnroe against 52-year Bjorn Borg (the former rivals fittingly split their two matches - Mac winning 7-6 in Kuala Lumpur and Borg equalizing 7-6 in Macau - so that their lifetime head-to-head record remains even-Steven). Just for good measure, the series also featured a Yanks versus Europeans doubles match pitting Johnny Mac and Blake against Federer and Borg. No word on the results, though conventional tennis wisdom holds that the world's all-time best doubles team is John McEnroe and Anybody.

Some highlights from the Federer-Blake match are shown below, courtesy SF TV:

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