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Posted by Dexter Matilla - - 0 comments

Strokes of Genius review

LOOKING back at this year’s Wimbledon championship match between eventual winner Roger Federer and American Andy Roddick, I remember thinking that it had unfortunately been such a bore that if it were a film, it would be the type where, if you slept through the middle of it and suddenly woke up in time for the ending, you wouldn't have missed a thing.
I'm not taking anything away from both players’ efforts but the match would have been considered truly memorable—not because it was where Federer surpassed Pete Sampras’ record and regained his number one ranking—had the “greatest match ever played” between Federer and Rafael Nadal not happened last year.

As it is, the only thing memorable about Federer and Roddick’s match was that no one between the two had been able to break the other player’s serve until the very last game. I really can't remember anything that happened for the most part of the game unlike last year's when, as centre court began to lose light, the images of Nadal and Federer—both inhumanly remaining strong—still remain fresh in my memory. (I read somewhere, however, that the Federer-Roddick finals was the most-watched match in  men's tennis, receiving higher viewership ratings than last year's).

It felt like no one was really in control of the match this year until a) Federer decided to elevate himself just a little bit more or; b) Roddick just grew a wee bit tired (perhaps frustrated) that he couldn't put away his opponent that it resulted in his final shot with the frame of his racket hitting the ball to send it flying all the way up centre court.

But being a fan of Roddick's as well, I have to say that he was the best player of the tournament.  I think I remember Federer saying that "not the best player usually wins" when he lost this year to Nadal during the Australian Open. Well, in Roddick's case, this was exactly what happened. If there's one match worth watching again and again during Wimbledon 2009, it would be the American's quarterfinal match against Australian Lleyton Hewitt. WHAT. A. MATCH! it was. I must remember to write about it before the year ends.

But going back to the Federer-Roddick finals, "the longest match ever played," comparing it to "the greatest match ever played" is quite unfair. Unavoidable, but unfair. See, even before Nadal and Federer took the centre court, there were factors in play that added all varieties of spice to the match. Nadal, who had just won his fourth-straight French Open title, was on a roll and has the lead over Federer in their one-on-one matchups. Federer was struggling with mononucleosis and he was losing matches, thereby increasing the probability of a major upset in Wimbledon that no one had seen in such a long time. As if that wasn't enough, the match itself had its share of dramas and divine intervention: two rain delays coupled with the aforementioned loss of visibility had organizers thinking if they should continue the match the next day.

Reliving that match as described by L. Jon Wertheim in his book “Strokes of Genius” should give more weight to the fact that Federer and Rafael Nadal’s 2008 Wimbledon match would be the match by which all future matches would be measured.

Following the same principles applied by John McPhee in his book “Levels of the Game”, Wertheim masterfully weaves and inter-weaves the stories that are happening on the court, outside the arena, and in a tennis fan’s home miles away, much like the strings on a freshly strung tennis racquet.

The author also provides the readers background stories on both players so as to have a better understanding why Federer and Nadal embody righty versus lefty; classic technique versus ultramodern; Middle European restraint and quiet meticulousness versus Iberian bravado and passion; relentless genius versus unbending will; metrosexuality versus hypermuscular hypermasculinity; multi-tongued citizen of the world versus unabashedly provincial homebody; and the list just goes on.

Wertheim even writes how chair umpire Pascal Maria, who has been calling matches for a couple of years now, was finally able to convince his wife to attend her very first live tennis match. He even tells where Roddick was at the time the match was going on. Who would have thought that the spectator would be the competitor in just a year's time, eh?

The book is loaded with information that should satisfy every die-hard fan not just of the two main protagonists/antagonists but of tennis in general. It even takes a look at how both players came to choose their respective rackets and why both players—both soccer fans—are seemingly more similar than different. Wertheim also gives insights on how their rivalry has changed the way bettors perceived tennis.
Federer fans would surely reference this book as some would believe that the Wimbledon defeat last year had to happen just to give the Swiss superstar renewed purpose. Now that I think about it, Federer did seem to get better, winning the U.S. Open, the once-elusive French Open, and regaining the Wimbledon title. In the same way, Nadal fans would reference this book in arguing that this year’s Wimbledon sorely missed the Mallorcan matador, who was nursing a knee injury, for the unbridled passion that he consistently brings. One can only hope that the next time the two competitors meet in the grass courts of London, it would be better than their greatest.

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