Tennis rankings simply don’t compute

Chuck Culpepper – The Los Angeles Times

Copyright The Los Angeles Times
(editor’s note: I’ve just recently discovered this person’s writing, which has been fantastic on Wimbledon, showing real spark and playful Sports poetics.)
July 7, 2008
WIMBLEDON, England — Computers, both the lifeblood and the bane of human existence, have begun lying again.
These lying computers would not be the same lying computers who had their little sniveling get-together in 2003 to keep USC out of the Sugar Bowl, but they’re surely distant cousins of those other lying computers.
These would be the tennis rankings computers, and while they basically do an upstanding job keeping track of all the Russians and Serbs and Russians and Spaniards and Russians on the men’s and women’s lists, they’ve frozen their cursors and lost their minds at the top of both.
This nascent week, they continue to have Roger Federer at No. 1 in the world for a 232nd consecutive week and Rafael Nadal at No. 2 for a 155th consecutive week. That’s their 12-month judgment and all — and they’re soooo judgmental as they think they’re always right — but this Wimbledon dispensed a tectonic shift.
Men’s tennis pivoted this momentous Wimbledon, as the top player in the world for the most recent eternity, Federer, yielded to the top player in the world at the moment, Nadal.
He yielded ever so narrowly, by a few points here and a few shots there, by 9-7 in the fifth set in one of the most riveting and doubly ennobling matches anybody ever saw, but he yielded. His elegantly despotic five-year reign at Wimbledon had remained one of his most secure compounds, free from the hounds forever yapping meekly upward at him, until the one from Spain with the biceps and the backhand worthy of an aria got through.
With those walls penetrated, Federer is the second-most prominent player in the world, and what a strange sound that carries, seeing as how he’s been ensconced as a joy-to-watch No. 1 for so long it seems he’s built a mansion there.
So elongated had been his Wimbledon reign that it looked positively surreal seeing him walk around in the dark Sunday night, in his white cardigan with the “RF” logo, with that plate they give to the thanks-for-coming guy in the Wimbledon final.
It felt befuddling just seeing him at the interview dais, unable to conceal a crestfallen state that seemed to leak out into view through his pores. “Probably my hardest loss, by far,” he said, thereby using the word “loss” — at Wimbledon! — after all this time.
His countenance bore the unmistakable suggestion of — dare we say — No. 2. Just to observe it made the computers seem daft, even as they arrogantly assume they’re so fail safe.
They try to tell us No. 2 would be the guy who just showed the uncanny versatility to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same June-July, the first time that’s been done since the North Star of fortitude, Bjorn Borg, won both in 1980.
No. 2 would be the one who beat No. 1 by 6-1, 6-3, 6-0, on Paris clay, then came to Federer’s domain and wound up lying on the grass behind the baseline in a very uncommon state of mirth? If that’s No. 2 after these last four Sundays, then let’s just say somebody’s loopy in the hard drive.
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