Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim, author of Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played, was kind enough to let me bother him. Here, he considers Tiger Woods and challenges Will Leitch to a bet:
There is still much we don't know about L'Affaire Tiger Woods, and new information continues to come out. But the real question is: who will people compare Roger Federer to now?!
Those Tiger comparisons take on a different echo these days, don't they? (Digression: probably the more left unsaid about Tiger the better, but can we agree that "Kobe special" is a tremendous contribution to the cultural lexicon?)
Most people view Roger Federer as the embodiment of Swiss precision and neutrality, but you've noted otherwise. What's his real deal? (Which reminds me: is Pete Sampras as bland as we think?)
The great blessing/curse of tennis: the quotient for "colorful" (often a euphemism for batshit crazy) athletes is staggeringly high. So when a player comes along who doesn't project neurosis, go through rehab, have the Williams family backstory or Mike Agassi for a dad, reflexively we label them "boring." Federer is hardly boring; engaging guy, good sense of humor, speaks five languages. Watch this recent YouTube clip and it undercuts the "boring" label.
Even if Tiger Woods had the capacity for this, I suspect his agents would have confiscated the footage. I always say that if Federer were from Grand Rapids or Tulsa and weren't Swiss, he'd be a national hero on a par with Jordan and Lance Armstrong.
[Ed.: Note the suspicious silence on Sampras!]
Your book revolves around a single match: the 2008 Wimbledon final in which Rafael Nadal beat Federer in five long sets, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(8), 9-7. At the time, you wrote on SI.com: "I'm going unequivocal on this one: the 2008 Wimbledon men's final was THE greatest match of all-time. Period." Does that still stand?
I think so. It was one versus two. In the Wimbledon final. With all sorts of implications. Then the match had all the "Classic sporting event elements": skill, courage, self-sufficiency, sportsmanship, grace, gallantry, poise, intelligence, humility, injury, recovery, swaying momentum, etc. Selfishly, I had a scare this year when Federer beat Roddick in the Wimbledon final in another classic. I think the moral of the story: think hard before including a superlative in a book title.
Can Andy Roddick rise again? Your co-panelist from your recent book reading, Deadspin's own Will Leitch, thinks not. What's your outlook?
Damn, Will. That's another fellow-Midwesterner you're trashing. I think Will basically got it right: Roddick had the misfortune of being born within a few years of Federer and Nadal. And while he tries like hell, his game is a level down. But you sense the field is opening up a bit now. And here's the thing about tennis: you only to need to win seven matches to take a big prize. Start grooving your serve for two weeks and — presto — you're a Grand Slam champ. As a friendly wager — no tattoos — I'd bet Will that Roddick walks off with another Major before he's through.
[Ed.: I presume this means other stakes remain fair game. Your move, Mr. Emeritus.]
This is Katie Baker, btw.