You know it when you are watching it, not just watching but feeling it. Sports has that power. Suddenly, what might have been an ordinary, forgettable competition blooms into something epic, something that will leave its mark on the history of that sport, and on your memory.
Novak Djokovic outslugging Roger Federer in Sunday’s heavyweight Wimbledon men’s championship match felt like that as two all-time greats went the distance, through a 12-12 fifth set, before Djokovic at last prevailed in a tiebreaker to end a five-hour marathon.
I had no real rooting interest, no money on the outcome. The fan in me is tamped down by what I do for a living so I rarely get emotionally invested in a result, but Sunday near the end of that relentless back and forth I said to my wife something I rarely say when watching sports: “I hate that one of them has to lose.”
Here’s the thing, though. That Wimbledon men’s final for the ages? It might not have even been the most extraordinary sporting event going on that day. Or in that city.
I’m not a cricket fan (hundreds of millions are), I find the scoring indecipherable (my fault, not the sport’s). But Sunday in London, concurrent with the tennis, host England defeated New Zealand to win the Cricket World Cup, the Brits’ first ever. It had ended in a first ever championship match draw, requiring a “Super-Over” that is the equivalent of a penalty-kick shootout.
The United States, by the way, was admitted just this year to the International Cricket Council, meaning a U.S. national team will be entering the fray with world powers like Australia and India and Sunday’s finalists. Sports helps shrink the globe. Now cricket — so passionately held across much of the world but off the grid in the U.S. — will by degrees become less and less a foreign sport here, just like soccer did.
Why am I mentioning the exhilarating men’s Wimbledon final and an unprecedented Cricket World Cup finish? Because Sunday clinched it for me.
We are only just more than halfway through, and already 2019 has been the greatest sports year ever.
This is not prisoner-of-the-moment stuff. I have been watching sports as fan or journalist since newspapers were dropped on lawns by pterodactyls and games were on in black and white, and I cannot recall a run like ‘19 has brought us. So much about sports can frustrate us — like, if your football team hasn’t won a Super Bowl in 45 years, just to use a totally random example — but sports keeps us coming back with the smorgasbord of of drama, joy and surprise such as we have seen this year.
A hint of this year as special surely came just after New Year’s when Clemson football steamrolled Alabama — Nick Saban turned hapless always a delightful sight.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick winning another Super Bowl ring isn’t so delightful (outside of New England), but you must respect if not hail the G.O.A.T.s.
We were only getting started. A rough chronology of what has made this year stand apart:
Virginia men’s basketball win its first NCAA crown in its 114th season.
Tiger Woods wins the Masters, ending an 11-year majors title drought.
Odell Beckham Jr. is traded to Cleveland to continue the Browns’ unlikely rise from the dead.
Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki retire from basketball, two classy greats give the sendoff each deserved.
Ever replenishing, the NBA welcomes Zion Williamson, its most talked-about, anticipated draftee since LeBron James.
I’m not big on the Home Run Derby, but fans found Pete Alonso’s dinger duel with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. pretty riveting last week. (I’ll take the Christian Yelich/Cody Bellinger run at the Triple Crown, juiced baseballs or not.)
Toronto winning its first NBA championship in its 24th season.
St. Louis winning its first NHL Stanley Cup in its 51st season.
Then, NBA free agency. It has become its own season, and this was the best we have seen with stars such as Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Paul George, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook all changing uniforms. (Baseball and football seem to stay the same relative to a dynamic NBA reinventing itself every few years.)
The United States forcefully winning a record fourth Women’s World Cup, led by the loud and proud Megan Rapinoe, was a delight to see. (And important beyond sports as the team championed LBGTQ rights, pay equity and other equality.)
Bam! Jorge Masvidal’s flying knee in UFC.
The Angels throw a no-hitter on the night they are honoring Tyler Skaggs, the teammate who had died suddenly. (And you still doubt the magic of sports?)
Then came this weekend, with a Wimbledon women’s final Saturday that saw Serena Williams fall short (again) in her hunt for a record-tying 24th career major, and saw the riveting run of 15-year-old Delray Beach sensation Cori “Coco” Gauff, and then Djokovic’s epic triumph Sunday. And, across town, a cricket final that so much of the globe cared about even more than tennis.
What have been the top five things that have meant the most to you about sports so far this year? Delightfully, the choices are many.
And now we wonder what’s next and when in the perpetual mystery that is competition.