It can hurt to see someone in pain. It’s real, not metaphorical, and it’s strange. The flash of pain across a face can signal across the space between bodies and the other mind will flash like lightning in response. A faint rumble of pain follows like thunder. I can’t explain the mechanics. It has to do with mirror neurons or the somatosensory cortex or something. Your brain is fooled. Your heart tightens and your stomach jumps. If you’re like me, you might feel tears threaten your eyes. There is something ridiculous and egomaniacal about this. I was not injured watching Serena Williams play last night. But it hurt all the same.
If I said I’d picked Tomas Berdych to beat Roger Federer last night, I’d be lying. But the Andy Murray freak-out against Marin Cilic was actually more surprising, even if Murray handled Cilic easily in the end. Federer was having a terrible night — he can really shank his forehand — and Berdych has tremendous talent. He hits ground strokes with the speed of serves. Last night, a few of his returns embarrassed the great Federer.
There were only two moments during the long standoff between inevitability and the Augusta National Golf Club that made complete sense. The first moment came in 2002, when Martha Burk, the chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, wrote a letter to Augusta to protest the club’s all-male membership policy. It is unsurprising that a coalition of women’s rights groups objected to the fact that the host of one of golf’s most prestigious tournaments was an all-boys’ club. But Burk didn’t make a huge fuss — not then, at least. Her letter was private. The second moment that made sense occurred earlier this week, when Augusta announced that it was admitting two women as new members. One of the women is a former secretary of state from the George W. Bush administration; the other is a South Carolina billionaire financier. Both Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore are avid golfers. Pretty much everything that happened in between those two moments played out as farce.
After McKayla Maroney’s feet skidded out from under her on the landing of her second vault during the event final, and after she landed unceremoniously on her butt, she looked like she wanted to kill someone. Her coach tried to hug her, but she kept her arms crossed tightly across her chest. Her mouth was set in a grim line. Her eyes were bright and narrow. The cameras were on her, up in her face. The NBC announcers were in fits of disbelief and dismay, having already promised, in no uncertain terms, that she would win the gold. In the stands, her teammates chatted with Duchess Kate. Maroney fiddled with her bag and kept her back to the scoreboard.
I would like to get on my high horse here and talk about the absurdity of prematurely awarding an Olympic gold medal to anyone, let alone a 16-year-old who has to perform a round-off with a half turn onto a vaulting table and then a laid-out flip with a full twist off of it, judging distance to the ground by her sense of the air alone. But the truth is that despite my dislike of making predictions (since I am almost always wrong), I was sure that she was going to win the vault gold. Sometimes, something happens with such consistency that you begin to believe it will keep happening, that it can’t not happen. I have begun to believe, for instance, that the sun will rise in the east, and that tomorrow will be Tuesday. And after watching and rewatching Maroney vault more times than I can count, I had begun to believe that she could not fall.
Even if Wimbledon, as Brian Phillips proved, weren’t a dream inside of a big skull, then Lukas Rosol would still be the man of my dreams, or the man in my dreams, or whatever preposition dream grammar requires. I watched his match against Rafael Nadal after 40 hours without sleep; after taking a seven-hour train ride across northern Europe and spending the night outside an airport McDonald’s; after riding a plane from Amsterdam to fevered California; after he had already won, 6-7 (9), 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, on Thursday. I could see from the start, therefore, that Rosol was a tall and dashing slayer, and not simply Nadal’s second-round opponent, more gristle than meat, with cheap advertising patches on his shirt that hadn’t been properly attached. I could also see from the start that Nadal was toast.
One of the greatest World Series games ever played was one of the worst I’d ever seen. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and the St. Louis Cardinals down two runs, I turned the television off, more or less in disgust. I didn’t want to watch the inevitable. If you don’t see it, maybe it doesn’t happen! So when David Freese tripled to drive in Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman and tie the game, I was climbing into bed. By the time he hit a home run in the bottom of the 11th, I was deep asleep. I missed the most exciting sequence of events that sports has to offer.
I’m told this is a tragedy. My friends say they are sad for me. But I couldn’t be more thrilled.