Sunday, January 31, 2010

Federer: A champion and a gentleman

OK, I'll admit it ~ I'm an unabashed Roger Federer fan and have been for a long time. In 2008, I had a brush with greatness moment when I got to see Rog hit on a practice court while attending the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Fla. during a family vacation. So, what's not to like about a champion and a gentleman who exudes talent, confidence and a warm, friendly personality?

On a summer Sunday night down under in Melbourne, Federer won his 16th career Grand Slam tennis championship as he won the Australian Open men's singles title for the fourth time in his career. Federer's convincing 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (13-11) victory over Andy Murray added to his record for men's Grand Slam singles titles and served to solidify his place in in the tennis history books. It happened while I slept, Melbourne being 19 hours ahead of the U.S. west coast.

Even adulation has it's limits.

Yet, I woke at 6 a.m. PST to hear good news of Federer's victory as reported on NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday," then, happily watched a taped replay of ESPN's coverage over breakfast a few hours later.

And I enjoyed every moment of it.

You see, Federer brings out the best in his opponents ~ and he raises the level of their games, too.

The third set tie-break, alone, showed why Federer, at 28, is an all-court master tennis craftsman ~ he overcame five set points by the younger Murray, 22, and, finally, won 13-11 on his third championship point.

Throughout the match, the always-motivated Federer excelled in all facets of his game ~ the first serve, the powerful forehand, the pinpoint one-handed backhand, the court speed, the deft touch, the mental toughness. He is a thinking-man's player and an independent one, too, who does not have a full-time coach like most other players on the tour.

By the end of Sunday's championship final, after more than two and one-half hours of emotion-filled tennis from both players, Federer seemed as fit as he was at the beginning of the match. And, his court mastery brought Murray to tears like Rafa Nadal did to him a year ago when Federer lost the 2009 final in a five-set thriller.

"I'm over the moon winning this thing" Federer said during the on-court trophy presentation after his victory. "I've played some of the best tennis of my life over the last two weeks."

In the final week alone, Federer, a native of Basel, Switzerland, beat the Australian Lleyton Hewitt in the Round of 16, the Russian Nikolay Davydenko in the quarterfinals and the Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semifinals before facing the Scot Murray, whom he defeated in the finals of the 2008 U.S. Open.

Some day, Murray will win a Grand Slam ~ even if, as Federer quipped after his semifinal victory in an on-court interview with former great Jim Courier: "I know he'd like to win the first for British tennis in, what is it, like 150,000 years?" It drew laughter. Federer sure knows how to work a 15,000-seat arena crowd. "The poor guy has to go through those moments over and over again," he added.

You, see, not since British tennis great Fred Perry did 74 years ago has a player from the U.K. won a Grand Slam men's singles title. Like everyone since Perry, Murray came up just a little short against Federer, whom he enjoyed a 6-4 lifetime record before Sunday.

"I can cry like Roger," Murray said on the awards platform after the match, his voice choking with each word. "It's a shame I can't play like him."

Everyone loves a worthy champion and Federer currently reigns supreme on all tennis surfaces ~ hard court, clay and grass. However, what I like best about Federer is this: He exudes other noble qualities often lacking in today's sporting arena, namely good sportsmanship, whether in victory or defeat. On Sunday night, Rog was all smiles, but he also graciously congratulated Murray as well as the Australian fans.

Finally, what's not to like about the maturing Federer winning his first Grand Slam since becoming a father of twin girls last summer? His wife, Mirka, and his unassuming parents were in the the Friend's Box to appreciate Federer's latest achievement. Nice folks, those Federers.

"You know, I really want to try to enjoy, you know, my end to my career," Federer spoke to the crowd "because I've reached already so many goals I thought were never possible."

Spoken like a worthy champion and a wonderful gentleman.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Music ~ a universal language

The 19th Century American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once mused, "Music is the universal language of mankind." Although his words pre-dated the iPod generation by about a hundred years or so, I think the poet was onto something.

In an age where understanding the new models of music and media changes by the day ~ if not by the hour ~ it is music that has shaped the world around us. No matter what language it is sung ~ English, French, Spanish, Afrikaans. No matter if you don't speak or understand the language. You can still understand ~ and appreciate ~ the voice, the beat and the sound of the music.

A perusal of recent additions to my "Morning Becomes Eclectic" playlist (500+ songs) on my Apple iPod reflects the universality of my expanding multi-lingual and multi-genre music tastes:

"Prayer in Open D" by Emmylou Harris from Spyboy.
"Waiting for a Miracle" by Bruce Cockburn from Anything, Anytime, Anywhere.
"Xango Te Xinga" by Fabiana Cozza from The New Brazilian Music.
"July Flame" by Laura Veirs from July Flame.
"Seya" by Oumou Sangare' from Seya.

Let's break it down: There's alt country sung by an American (Harris), indy rock by a Canadian (Cockburn), bossa nova (sung by Cozza, a Brazilian), indy folk (sung by Veirs, an American), world music (sung by Oumou Sangare, a Malian). Added up: Music has no borders; its themes are shared.

Yes, music is indeed its own universal language. And, after all, doesn't everything in life go better with music?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A debut and a time for sharing wisdom

Welcome to my blog, A Tuesday Night Memo, musings about a life filled with music, sport and urban travel. While it is still Tuesday in the Western Hemisphere as I write my first post, I do not plan to limit my blogging to Tuesdays only ~ so, feel free to return to this space often.

As many of you who know me personally or who have gotten to know me through Facebook over the past year realize, I am an avid reader ~ newspapers and periodicals, books and blogs ~ with a "hungry mind" for gaining new insight, knowledge and wisdom. Sometimes, it's found through sport, in music, from politics, on the stage, at a cathedral or, simply, from enjoying a glass of fine wine.

As we are nearly one month into the new new decade, still busy setting personal goals and hoping to make good on New Year's resolutions, I would like to share with you a pearl of wisdom from the late Jim Valvano. You remember him, don't you?

Jimmy V, as he was known to most in the sporting world, coached underdog North Carolina State to a basketball national championship in 1983. The stage for delivering this pearl of wisdom was not a basketball arena, but rather came on a theater stage where Valvano gave an acceptance speech in receiving the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award on March 4, 1993 at the ESPYs ~ a mere 8 weeks before he died of cancer at age 47. His words of wisdom and courage carried a lot of weight back then and now, nearly 17 years later, they maintain a relevance and passion we can all appreciate. I know I do. If you're undecided about what your New Year's resolution should be, maybe this one's for you.

"To me, there are three things we all should do every day," Valvano said. "We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special."

Cheers for a safe, healthy and happy 2010!