For all those tired of the scandals, the doping, the cheating, the assaults of all sorts, not mention the exploding egos and profligate millionaires that seem to have taken over SportsWorld, the last month or so has offered some welcome relief. Two weeks ago in this space I focused on the NBA finals, Pat Summitt, and Gordie Howe. In the subsequent two weeks, there has been more of what we love about sport.
Major news came from Wimbledon where upsets of Djokovic and Federer shocked tennis fans and opened the door to hometown favorite Andy Murray in men's singles. Even more significant was the victory by Serena Williams who won her seventh Ladies Championship and in the process collected her twenty-second major championship, tying Steffi Graf for all-time major wins in the Open Era. Margaret Court holds 24 titles which reach back into pre-Open tennis.
If you haven't seen Serena Williams play tennis in the last few years you have missed something quite special. In top physical shape at age 34, Williams is playing both power and finesse tennis simultaneously. She is nearly unbeatable even though the competition in women's tennis is as strong as it has ever been. Serena's victory in the final came over Angelica Kerber who had beaten Serena in the finals of the Australian Open. Although the game scores were close at 7-5 and 6-3, Williams was able to go to her powerful serve as needed and match Kerber's strong showing on Centre Court. Serena Williams is without a doubt the greatest woman tennis player ever.
The fact that Venus Williams reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon should not be overlooked. At age 36 she continues to produce high-level tennis. Together the sisters won the Ladies Doubles title and added to their joint resume. It could be argued that given the obstacles to African Americans in tennis, particularly at the start of their tennis careers, the Williams story is one of the most amazing in the history of this sport or any other.
In the midst of their success and longevity it would be appropriate to recall the nay-sayers from their early years who ridiculed the training techniques employed by their father, Richard. Later critics decried the way in which the Williams sisters paced their scheduling in this sport in which 17-year-olds suffered from burnout. Here they are now in their mid-30s still not only going strong but still at the top level of women's tennis.
At Euro 2016 a very familiar sports story played out in the championship game. About twenty minutes into the action between heavily favored France and Portugal the match took a sharp, and what seemed like an ominous, turn for Portugal. Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best footballers in the world, went down on the pitch as he twisted his knee. The trainers worked on him a bit and play was resumed. A few minutes later Ronaldo was once again down. This time he left for the sidelines where the trainers taped him up. Ronaldo returned shortly only to leave one more final time. It was apparent that he could not continue.
The Portuguese fans were despondent. Surely now their side did not have a chance in the French home stadium. For the next ten minutes of so the French pressed their advantage, but somehow the Portuguese held them off, in large part due to the spectacular play by the goalkeeper.
At then the matched turned, and as it happens so often in sporting competitions the team with the advantage seemed to relax, sure of their victory. At the same time the team that lost the star saw everyone else lift their game. Whatever advantage the French had faded away. In the end the Portuguese prevailed 1-0 in this remarkable and shocking Euro 2016 final scoring a goal in extra time at the 109th minute of play.
I find it difficult to believe that I spent several hours last weekend watching The Open from some place called Royal Troon. I once considered golf on television the sport's equivalent of the "test pattern." In other words, it was like watching a static picture in black and white of a lot of lines vaguely resembling a target. That changed with the Tiger Words era. Certainly I watched the majors back in the days of Palmer and Nicklaus and I knew vaguely the names Hogan and Snead, but spend five hours at one sitting? Never!
Well "never" arrived with Tiger Woods as I found myself captivated by his skill and charisma and I watch nearly every time he appeared on my TV screen. Now that he is gone, the televised version of golf has lost some of its appeal for me. I do though still check in on the majors and this past weekend I was rewarded with one of the greatest matchups in golf history.
At the end of the second round of The Open, Phil Mickelson at age 46 and Henrik Stenson at age 40 led the tournament. This meant the two would be the final pair to play on Saturday, and as it turned out, on Sunday as well. When Saturday began Mickelson had a one-stroke lead on Stenson and a few others were still in contention. At some point on Saturday that final pairing began to resemble a match-play struggle. On Sunday that was exactly what it was. At the end of the third round Stenson was one stroke up on Mickelson who was five strokes clear of the field.
On Sunday that separation from the field quickly widened as Stenson and Mickelson played out the final eighteen holes in their own private tournament. Both played superb golf as the lead went back and forth with a number of ties in the mix.
At this point I must make a confession. I took advantage of technology and after about the sixth hole I put the tournament on my DVR, had a leisurely brunch, and then headed back to The Open, remote in hand, ready for battle. It was a mesmerizing couple of hours as I moved through the holes and watched amazing shots, remarkable putts, unbelievable saves as each man turned what looked like impending disaster with a save of par. This all happened as it became obvious that one bad hole could sink the player. (I caught up to live action on the 17th)
In the end, Stenson won The Open while Mickelson certainly did not lose. Stenson set a record for the lowest four-round total in a major, the lowest final round to win a major with a 63, and Mickelson shot an amazing bogey-free 65 matching his 65 from Saturday. This was Stenson's first victory in a major coming at age 40 heading into the latter stages of his career at the top of his game.
If you saw any of these events, or all three of them, count yourself fortunate. They offered a cleansing of the sporting spirit in an era when the sporting spirit often seems to be in the twilight of its existence.
On Sport and Society, this is Dick Crepeau reminding you that you don't have to be a good sport to be a bad loser.