Jon Marthaler bakes up a delicious batch of links for you every Saturday. Other times, you can find him here. Jon?
I don't know if you have been watching much tennis lately. The Australian Open, the first major of the year, has been happening over the past couple of weeks, but as a marquee evening matchup in Melbourne takes place at 3:00 a.m. here in America, it can be a little difficult to follow. Even so, this year a tennis-loving friend encouraged me to give it a try, and so I've been following along and watching replays of matches on ESPN3.com. Here's what I've learned: tennis is awesome.
I watched Thursday's semifinal between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. We often say something in sports is "unbelievable" when we mean it's great, but Nadal hit a couple of shots that, seen live, were quite literally unbelievable to me, in that I could not comprehend how they were physically possible. A number of times, Federer hit a shot that most players wouldn't even bother to chase. Even Federer would seem to relax. And then suddenly Nadal would accelerate from a slide in the opposite direction to a full sprint towards the ball, which by that point would be over the baseline and past the Spaniard. And somehow Nadal would take what seemed like a desperate hack, a lunge like a man trying to save a glass jar from falling off a shelf, except somehow he would reach back behind where he possibly could reach, and he would violently twist and hit a powerful shot back across the net. And not only would it clear the net, but it'd shoot past Federer and land an inch inside the line.
And the tension! My word, the tension! The two were so evenly matched that every winner felt like an uppercut in a prizefight, every missed shot or error a haymaker absorbed. Every game of the match felt like the eighteenth hole of an all-square Ryder Cup singles match. That's the best comparison I have, to match-play golf; tennis requires much of the same touch and endures much of the same pressure. Except the game takes place at a hundred miles an hour and in the blink of an eye.
On with the links:
*Appropriately, the first link is about tennis. I admit I haven't watched any of the women's side of the Aussie Open; the Economist says the women's game is in a slump, and blames the lack of athleticism in women's tennis. Their solution: five-set matches for women as well as men, at the major championships.
*Spencer Hall wrote a eulogy for Joe Paterno. I think Spencer Hall may be my favorite writer right now, and I'm not limiting that to just sports.
*John Bonnes thinks that Prince Fielder will give the Tigers three or four more wins next year. That's good, but as Bonnes points out, that's not enough to take them from "question marks" to "prohibitive World Series favorites."
That'll do it for me this week. The Australian Open Final is tonight at 2:30am, so I'm not sure I'll be able to convince you to watch it live. I hope you get ESPN3.com at your house. I encourage you to give it a chance sometime Sunday. Sit down, watch, and see if your jaw doesn't hit the floor a few times.