Heading to the Sacred Lawns
In the debate over the identity of the world's top individual athlete, Tiger Woods renewed the argument for himself over tennis star Roger Federer with a spectacular, gritty performance at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines over the weekend.
Playing on a bad wheel, Woods delivered drama and a terrific storyline, outlasting journeyman Rocco Mediate to win his 14th major in style.
Now, with Wimbledon just around the corner, it's Federer's turn to respond, and it sure isn't going to be easy.
To be sure, he's heading back to his favourite surface, grass, upon which he's won 59 straight matches and five straight Wimbledon singles titles. He's been ranked No. 1 in the world since Feb. 2, 2004.
But he's got the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, breathing down his neck, something Woods really doesn't have as he continues to dominate his sport without anything approximating a real rival.
Nadal blew Federer off the court in the final of the French Open, and on Sunday did something no other Spaniard had done in 36 years, win a grass court tournament. Nadal forced Federer to the limit in last year's Wimbledon final, and based on the performances of the two men so far this season, Federer can't be viewed as the overwhelming favourite to win again despite his fabulous record of success on grass, particularly if he runs into Nadal again.
If Federer were not able to defend his title at the All-England Club, then surely the sense that his star is starting to fade would gain momentum at the same time Woods clearly is unchallenged as the world's top golfer. He proved at Torrey Pines that even if injuries come, as they inevitably do, he may have the resources to overcome them and win many more majors.
Federer, meanwhile, didn't win Australia this year and didn't win the French. He's at 12 Grand Slam singles titles, two short of Pete Sampras' all-time record. If Nadal, or somebody else, knocks him off at Wimbledon, what at one time seemed a lock, that he would eclipse Sampras' record, might suddenly seem in doubt.
And there won't be much debate about the identity of the world's top individual athlete any more.