It’s the Monday after Wimbledon, which always makes me a little sad, because it means my favorite tennis tournament in the world has ended for another year.
But I’m not sad today. I’m actually thrilled, because these last two weeks have given us tennis nuts so much magnificence. Some of it we expected, some of it we most certainly did not (I’ll get to that in a minute).
Today on the blog, a few words about three extremely worthy champions.
First, Novak Djokovic. I was, as usual, pulling with all my heart for Roger Federer to win another Grand Slam title on Sunday, and I really thought he could do it. He played one of the best matches of his life in Friday’s semifinals, and I thought if he could come close to duplicating that, he’d have a real shot at Wimbledon title No. 8.
But Novak Djokovic, who doesn’t inspire nearly the passionate fan base as Roger or Rafa Nadal, just keeps winning anyway. He’s too good, too impenetrable at the baseline, and too clutch in the key moments. He and Federer played two of the best sets of tennis you’ll see Sunday, before Djokovic raised his game to another level and won the match in four sets.
He’s a tremendous sportsman, a class act on and off the court, and still very much in his prime. He’s likely to continue leading this incredible era of men’s tennis for years to come. And the Swiss guy ain’t done yet.
**Serena Williams has never been nor will she ever be a favorite of mine; I’ve made that clear many times in this space over the years. But what she’s doing these last 12 months is beyond ridiculous, it’s just silly. Four straight major titles, including the first three this year. She wins when she’s playing poorly, she wins when she’s playing great. She’s winning some matches in a breeze, others she has to gut out by the skin of her teeth.
She is an incredible athlete, the best female athlete of her generation, and I must admit her attitude and off-court actions have improved quite a bit in recent years. She is an admirable player who has taken her sport to a new level that others cannot yet reach, and isn’t that the greatest legacy someone can leave?
**Finally, the third champion I want to write about is one I’m much more personally connected to than Novak and Serena. I’ve written about Reilly Opelka since he was 12 years old, when while working at the Daytona Beach News-Journal I went out to his house in Palm Coast, Fla. and hit with him and watched him play.
He’s grown more than a foot since then, to 6-foot-10, and gotten five years older. But he’s still the same kinda goofy kid with deep humility and respect for others, and a low-key demeanor that almost borders on catatonic sometimes.
Except now, he’s a freaking Wimbledon champion. In a week no one saw coming, least of all him, Opelka won the junior boys singles title Sunday, his first-ever Grand Slam title and becoming the first tennis major champion from his hometown.
I was along for the ride “virtually” all week, watching Opelka’s matches on the Internet, interviewing him each day for my part-time writing gig at FlaglerLive.com (his town’s best news source/website), and marveling at how this kid who has gotten zero of the hype accorded other U.S. prospects showed he’s every bit the potential star they are.
One of my favorite things about being a sportswriter was watching a kid grow up and mature athletically right before your eyes; I felt more than a little pride Sunday that the little boy I first met became this enormous champion.
Djokovic. Serena. Opelka. Worthy title winners, all.
**Finally today, one of my favorite character actors from the last 30 years on TV died over the weekend. Roger Rees, who so perfectly played Kirstie Alley’s billionaire boyfriend Robin Colcord, and then showed a terrific comedy touch as Lord John Marbury on “The West Wing” died on Saturday.
He was 71 and an accomplished Broadway actor. But to me, he’ll always be Marbury, the loony but brilliant political ambassador who the Bartlet administration called on from time to time.
This is one great scene of his, but he had so many more.