Thursday, June 24, 2010

More reasons to love sports

My readers know that I have a love affair with sports (read: unhealthy addiction to any type of televised athletic competition). The drama, the unpredictable outcomes, the athletic prowess--I freakin' love it. On Wednesday, two sports that aren't anywhere near the top of my sports pyramid reminded fans of sports' endless ability to fascinate and entertain us.

First, the US soccer team took on Algeria in a game they had to win due to England's victory over Slovenia. Despite the US having tantalizing chance after tantalizing chance, the game remained scoreless all the way through the 90th minute. But in the 91st minute, with all hope lost, a close-but-no-cigar storyline already written, another disappointing World Cup finish for the US all but in the books, Landon Donovan's chip shot goal changed everything.

Donovan, USA's most popular player, the man who wears #10, the face of the franchise, knocked in a rebound of Clint Dempsey's shot to keep his team from being knocked out. As the announcer said, you simply couldn't write a script like this.

No, this wasn't the World Cup final, but the US hadn't won their group since 1930 and has only advanced to the Round of 16 four times. After eight shots on goal, including one that went in but was strangely disallowed ... after 21 total shots ... after Jozy Altidore missed from point blank range ... after Dempsey hit the post with a blistering shot and failed to put in the rebound ... after 91 minutes of frustration and heartbreak, with just two minutes until elimination, the ball bounced gently to one of the few Americans who plays in the US even when the World Cup isn't taking place, and suddenly the American team was able to erupt into celebration along with the millions of American fans who were watching along. A movie with that ending would be terrible. In real life? Wonderful.

Later in the day, top seeds such as Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic receded into the background at Wimbledon as John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played (but did not finish) a comically long match. After their fifth set was postponed due to darkness on Tuesday, the two came back to resume their match Wednesday. So they played all day Wednesday ... and then it was postponed due to darkness again. How is that possible? Well, the fifth set stood at 59 sets apiece when twilight forced the postponement. 59-59! It's supposed to go to six! The fifth set went on for over six hours, and they're not done! The match has taken over 10 hours total. It's the longest tennis match in history, and it seems like it might be the longest sporting event of any kind in history.

I remember Andy Roddick and Roger Federer playing an epic Wimbledon match last year, but their fifth set was a paltry 16-14. 59-59 is insane. It's unfathomable. It doesn't even make sense. It's like a baseball game going into the 40th inning. They played 45 games in the first four sets combined, and they'll play at least 120 in the fifth set.

It's painful to imagine yourself in their shoes, going back and forth for hours. The match will take three days to complete given the two delays, and that's assuming one of them is able to put the other away today. I suppose at this point it would be more unexpected for one of them to quickly dispose of the other, so I guess that's what we should expect. Because as yesterday proved, as so many other days have done before, if you're going to expect anything when it comes to sports, it should be the unexpected.

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