What we watched: Roger Federer became the first person to beat Novak Djokovic since Roger Federer. After Djokovic's monster 43-match streak, even a defeat at the hands of Nadal would've been a significant upset, so Roger deserves all the praise he gets. But as you read about age triumphing over youth, Fed turning back the clock, beating father time over the head with a sharp stick, etc., consider this: the notion of a top tennis player's career path is flawed.
When an older athlete in another sport declines or improves at an unexpected pace, the possible causes are those that affect his own performance. He was never the same after the surgery. He's doping. He's two years older than we thought he was. He's distracted because of the divorce and the porn stars. But tennis is different: the narrative of rise and fall is all about other players. Nadal's increasing prowess had nothing to do with Federer's ability to play tennis, yet Rafa's victory at Wimbledon in 2008 was the start of Roger's fall. A third overall ranking should mean only that there are two players better — it doesn't say anything a decline in skill. No, Federer isn't the same player he was five years ago. But the general sporting public doesn't follow tennis closely enough to notice his diminished serve; it only needs to see the diminished tourney title total. In the universe with worse or younger versions of Nadal and Djokovic, Federer is still the best player in the world, and there's more talk about what ability remains than what is lost. In team sports, this narrative affects our evaluation of dynasties: sometimes they fit (the dominant Pistons and Lakers declined with the rise of the Bulls) and sometimes they don't (the Sonics, Jazz, Suns, and Blazers would have a few more rings without MJ). But the closest analogue is '70s boxing: Federer is Ali, Nadal Frazier, and Djokovic Foreman. No one will care about how they're fighting because we'll see who gets knocked out.
What we're watching: Bruins-Canucks. Obsessive fans are easiest to spot when they claim broad concepts as unique to their sport. See Ken Burns' Baseball for about a thousand examples. In fact, I used to think the phenomenon itself was unique to baseball, which reveals my own allegiance. My current favorite is the idea that last-minute drama is endemic to hockey. Take my fellow intern's impression of Game 2 of Mavs-Heat, for instance. But he's right: the 2011 NHL playoffs are beating the NBA's in exciting finishes by quite a bit, and basketball hasn't exactly been boring. Though I'm still waiting to get hooked or even interested in the long term, I'll be watching hockey tonight because something cool will happen.
At least Terry Collins had one good day: A day after the Mets followed a horrible showing with an historic comeback, they blew a late lead in sloppy fashion. This after announcing that David Wright will be out for at least another month. However, Citi Field did not catch fire. Bernie Madoff hasn't been activated from AAA Buffalo. And for every body part that is injured, there are many that are not. [NYT]
H. L. Mencken files his summer film recap 84 years early: "I have now seen about twelve movies, four or five of them to the end. I liked them all pretty well, but am not tempted to go back." [Letters of Note]
Scott Cousins getting death threats over Posey injury: "This is his hometown, San Francisco. He's worried about his family and his friends that are there. And now (Sabean) is going to make comments like that? It's ignorant, it's inappropriate and he has no idea what the hell he's talking about." [Orlando Sentinel] (H/T tomuban)
We Are All Dave McKenna CXX: Here's your daily link to Dave McKenna's lovely "Cranky Redskins Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder," which we'll be posting until Snyder's dumbass libel suit goes the way of a rational James Dolan employee. You guys psyched for Chesney at FedEx Field tonight?
Robert Lipsyte on Bill Simmons, Grantland, Those Guys Have All the Fun, and the god that sucked: "The Church of Sports will survive. It has allowed its current superstar, Bill Simmons, to create an empire within the empire—a website with room for his pal Malcolm Gladwell that will include pop culture pieces and his own fan-centric, navel-gazing sportswriting. It will promote his shows, podcasts, books. Meanwhile, Simmons flaunts his persona as a kind of liberation theologian within an orthodox church. He aligns himself with Olbermann and Tony Kornheiser as being 'very impassioned almost to a fault, and we can't just believe ESPN works this way, and why can't it work better.' His new site, Grantland.com, may end up as just another chapter of the ESPN scripture. Or maybe, and God knows which is the true path of righteousness, it will become the first chapter in a New Testament, a breakaway church of its own." [Slate]
Drinking and coaching: "Bear Bryant went to rehab in 1978. He left, and began drinking again shortly afterward, and did not cease until his death in 1983. He drank because it was what men did: because it felt good, and because it felt better than unbuttoning your collar, and because it obliterated the day and whatever happened in it like nothing else." [SB Nation]
More on Dr. Death: "I started my reporting career as many Detroit journalists did by following Jack Kevorkian around at his peak output of assisted suicides. While the obits written following his death today will say the number is at least 100, the actual total must be far higher; there were always stories about Kevorkian performing a few freelance jobs, even one in New York when he went to get an award from Time magazine." [Jalopnik]