Olé, Nole

Novak Djokovic’s stunning win over Roger Federer at Wimbledon Sunday proved John McEnroe’s adage that it’s not important to be the best, only to beat the best.

The Wimbledon fortnight ended in bizarrely glorious fashion as Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer  7-6(5), 1-6, 7-6(4), 4-6, 13-12(3) for the men’s singles championship. Federer, the far-and-away fan favorite, ostensibly took the match on paper, winning more points and games. But, as anyone will tell you, matches aren’t won on paper. They’re won by coming up big in the big moments, which is what Djokovic – the number one-ranked player but always an underdog in these situations – did to conquer both Federer and the pro-Fed crowd.

The five-hour match, the longest final in Wimbledon history, raised a number of questions for tennis buffs. At a time when the World Cup champion U.S. women’s soccer team is suing for equal pay in its sport, should male tennis players and female players receive the same amount of compensation when the women play two out of three sets and the men best of five and men’s tennis draws more fans than women’s? Some fans, mostly men, think not.

Secondly, where is the next generation? While Chris Evert wrote a column for Tennis magazine called “The Kids Are All Right,” it’s clear after Wimbledon they aren’t, with the millennials mostly crashing out in the first week. (We’ll have more on Naomi Osaka at the crossroads after a meteoric rise in our August Sporting Fascinations issue.) When will Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and company really step up to the baseline?

Finally, whither Fed, Nole, as Djokovic is nicknamed (rhymes with olé), and Rafa(el) Nadal? The Big Three have dominated tennis for a decade, engendering countless articles and debates over who is the greatest and why Nole isn’t loved the way Fed and Rafa are.

What has become clear is that Nole has benefited from being the least popular of the three and coming to the top slightly later. While Fed and Rafa and their fans were busy with their vaunted rivalry, Nole was busy under the radar trying to figure out how to beat them both. He’s the only one of the three with a winning record against the other two.

As John McEnroe once said of Björn Borg and their rivalry, it’s not important to be the best. It’s only important to beat the best.

– Georgette Gouveia

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