I've often been asked, Why do you spend thousands of hours each year watching sporting events that have absolutely no impact on your life? Why watch a Texas-Texas Tech game in October or an Illinois-Ohio State game in February?
Well, there are a few reasons, but a big one I'd immediately throw out there is the possibility of an upset, of something shocking happening. College football is great because of the thrill from one week to the next of a No. 1 or No. 2 team maybe being thwarted and sending the world -- and the BCS -- spinning on its axis. College basketball is the same way, especially during March Madness. And one NBA series I'll never forget was little Golden State's surprising dismantling of No. 1 seed Dallas in the '07 playoffs.
But there is one sport that I follow very closely in which I don't root for upsets -- tennis. So when Roger Federer and Serena Williams, the world's top players, went down on back to back days in the French Open quarterfinals, I wasn't exactly overjoyed.
Because in tennis, players like Federer and Williams don't grow on trees. They are once-in-a-generation players who bring such a consistent brilliance to the game that I want to soak up their play as much as possible. In Federer's case, I want to see more championship matches against Rafael Nadal. And any tennis fan without allegiance to a particular player who argues otherwise, is downright lying.
The Federer-Nadal match at Wimbledon two years ago was the best men's tennis spectacle -- ever. The world's best players create the greatest drama. No offense to Robin Soderling, who was absolutely outstanding in his four-set victory over Federer, but I don't care to watch him as he pursues a title. I'll watch it, rather, for Nadal -- a player who has done enough, winning six majors, to become a household name and a player who you always know, pending his health, will show up to battle it out on clay, grass or hardcourts.
On the women's side, it's impressive what Australian Samantha Stosur has done on clay, posting a 19-2 record and beating Williams 6-2, 6-7(2), 8-6 Wednesday. But she, like the other three remaining women in the bracket, hasn't won a grand slam. And will she be able to repeat the impressive performance she put together against Williams, including two gutsy cross-court shots to claim the essential break?
No one really knows, because she's lacking in experience.
Of course, this isn't to say that it wouldn't be nice for a new star to emerge. But becoming an instant hit on tour and sustaining excellence over the years are two completely difference achievements. Just ask Ana Ivanovic that. Where's she at these days other than in SI's Swimsuit Issue?
Tennis, bottom line, is more exciting and captivating when legends such as Federer and Williams are playing on the final weekend at majors. It's similar to golf and Tiger Woods, although I don't mind seeing Woods stink it up these days. The TV ratings for a tournament in which Woods is competing are astronomically higher than for one in which he's, gasp, missing the cut.
As far as TV ratings, this is also true with the Yankees and Lakers. And, yes, it doesn't get any better than a Lakers-Celtics final. But would I tune out if it were Suns-Magic? Absolutely not -- they're still two great teams with interesting storylines and players worth watching. Only in an individual sport do the names matter so much.
Yes, I'll be watching both French Open title matches this weekend. But just not with the excitement created by a Federer-Nadal matchup or a Williams' sisters battle.
Because tennis is at its best when the best, most tremendously established stars take the biggest stage -- ready to put on another match, another incredible display of tennis, for the ages.