They say sport is the ultimate form of competition.
An arena where gladiators fight tooth and nail for the ultimate prize.
A profession where sentimentality should be consigned to the rubbish heap. No point being nice here.
THAT was where the 2009 US Open was different.
It didn't have epic matches.
It didn't have stunning breathtaking tennis.
It didn't even have a Roger-Rafa final.
What it did have- as even the advocates of the determinedly 'non senti' approach to sport had to admit- were human stories.
Of course it is a well worn cliche' to pass most things off as 'human stories'- a somewhat compulsive need of journalists to fashion fiction from fact. But this time, even hardcore tennis lovers- the ones who obsess over Federer's footwork, know that Yaroslava Schvedova plays for Kazakhstan, wonder at the non progression of Nicholas Almagro and rue the absence of Fabrice Santoro and Justine Henin- even those idiots were won over by the kitschy soppy stories written by life- which seemed more suited to be on an after school special than on the tennis court.
It seemed foretold that the great F would reach the final at the very least. It seemed foretold that he would face either a dour Scot or a fire breathing Spaniard there. And the odds were that he would top either of them for a record 6th consequetive title.
It wasn't even too much of a surprise that the Tower of Tandil- a massive 6'6" JMDP reached the final by absolutely destroying the formidable Bull from Mallorca- after all he had lost only one match since Wimbledon.
What came as a surprise was the final. A 20 year old's refusal to wilt. Even a sub par F is a formidable challenge- so used is he to willing himself to victory. Unleashing the most powerful forehand in the game today, the Giant triumphed in five- curiously reversing the situation months ago in Paris where F had similarly come back to win in five sets after being down two sets to one.
At one stage two points from defeat, Delpo unleashed a monstrous forehand which barely clipped the line to break F- who launched into a tirade using that very letter quite a bit.
Opponents wouldn't have failed to notice his fifth set collapse- a sight becoming a little familiar- FYC- Wimbledon 2008 (THAT match), Australian Open 2009 and now the US Open 2009.
And then, the Giant from Argentina wept. The whole town of Tandil wept. The garrulous rowdy yet undeniably fascinating South American crowd wept, drank and lived it up. Tandil- until a few days back a little known town in Argentina- welcomed its hero like nobody's buisness. And JMDP- the 6'6 prodigy who had beaten the greatest of all time on his own turf- the Giant who had flattened another legend in the making before that- he wept throughout the procession. The coming of age of a new generation- fearless and undaunted- was a joy to behold.
Yet he was hard pressed to steal the thunder from the women.
What remains the defining picture of the year is a luminous Kim Clijsters beaming on court with the trophy in one hand and her sparkling daughter in another. Never has a champion radiated such warmth as Kim.
She did it the hard way, lighting up the awful, embarrasing state of women's tennis in a way no one else could- on the way defeating the lissome Venus Williams and outplaying the great, the legendary fighting skills of Serena Williams.
And she got people who had washed their hands off the women as a lost cause talking again. Do they deserve equal prize money? Of course not. Leaving alone the best of five arguement for a while, the women in the current crop are so woefully bad- barring the Williamses- that it is tough to support their claim to the money.
Not Kim though.
She proved stunning. Her semifinal against Serena, although immortalized by the latter's outburst was the best match of the year- quality wise.
No theatrical screaming, no sexy clothes- just pure sport. Unleashing a powerful crosscourt backhand, an accurate serve and a good forehand, the new Mum was all over the court- giving as good as she got and then some against her generation's greatest player.
In the end- after all the dust was swept off Arthur Ashe Stadium, the newly crowned Champion brought her daughter and husband onto court. Those were the most gratifying moments of the Open.
Because it showed that whether it is the close sisterhood of the Williamses, the unabashed love of Clijsters or the importance of the twins in RF's life- family is still the most important thing to the greats of their era.
And that's an encouraging thought.
*All Photographs from www.usopen.org
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