Was Sunday’s Wimbledon Final Greater Than the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines?

Was Sunday’s Wimbledon Final Greater Than the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines?

In elementary school science classes we learned about a simple classification system used to group living things and if I recall correctly a favorite remembrance device our teachers used was “King Phillip Came Over From Germany Sailing.”

If we broke down sports into classifications, golf and tennis would surely share the same subdivision. So naturally, it was inevitable that soon after Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal finished their epic battle at Wimbledon late Sunday evening London time, the comparisons and debate between the historic tennis match at the All England Club and historic U.S. Open golf tournament at Torrey Pines would begin.

For five days and ninety-one holes Rocco Mediate matched the incomparable Tiger Woods shot for shot. For five sets, lasting four hours and forty-eight minutes the 22-year-old Nadal traded booming groundstrokes with the 26-year-old Federer. Both events were equally compelling and historic standing alone, but broken down to a smaller classification the individuals involved at Wimbledon give tennis a substantial advantage over golf.

The glaring difference between Woods and Jack Nickalus has always been and will most likely always remain his lack of a true rival, a spirited challenger to his throne that will push him to his limits and legitimize his greatness. Federer has found that in Nadal, but it could also be argued that the young Spaniard has found that in the accomplished Swiss champion.

Let’s for a second take Mediate out of the equation and insert Phil Mickelson into the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Certainly, Mickelson’s presence would’ve produced more of a buzz in San Diego and left us with an even more memorable event for the ages. Undoubtedly golf has a harder time delivering No. 1 vs. No. 2 than tennis and even the BCS for that matter, but over the Tiger Woods’ era, it has happened much less frequently than it did during the era of Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.

Some have called Woods’ win at Torrey Pines the greatest performance in the history of golf. Already, there are cries that Nadal-Federer was the greatest match in the history of tennis. However, even a one-time Woods-Mickelson U.S. Open dual doesn’t beat out the history tennis’ top two talents have made.

For the comparison to be fair, Woods and Mickelson would’ve had to have played in the final pairing on Sunday at the last three Masters and U.S. Opens. It’s only fair; Federer and Nadal have combined for six championship matches at the French Open and Wimbledon over the past three years.

Even if Federer, who is three Grand Slam Championships short of eclipsing Pete Sampras’ record of 14 major titles, is Woods, Nadal is far superior to Mickelson. If Woods and Mickelson are No. 1 and No. 2 respectively, then Federer and Nadal are 1A and 1B and now that order is in question. The duo has dominated in unprecedented fashion; Federer has led the rankings for a record 231 consecutive weeks, and Nadal has been a solid second a record of 154.

With Woods on the sideline, Mickelson still may go majorless this season. And the winner of this year’s tournament at Riviera Country Club and the event at Colonial, who trails Woods’ by just over $1.8 million on the money list, may not even overtake Tiger in 2008 earnings. Surely, if either Nadal or Federer exited the tennis scene for a year, the other would quickly ascend to the top.

While Federer vs. Nadal is tennis’ version of Yankees-Red Sox, Duke vs. UNC or even Magic vs. Bird, Woods vs. Mickelson is like any team representing the NFC in the Super Bowl during the mid-90s vs. the Buffalo Bills; technically a match-up pitting No. 1 vs. No.2 but with an outcome practically preordained.

I’m not naïve enough to think that golf can consistently give us the world’s top two players in close competition down the stretch of even half of a season’s majors, but it would be nice to see once in a while.

Maybe it’s just that Tiger is too dominant and an equal simply can’t exist. But isn’t that what they said about Federer just a few years ago? Wasn’t Nadal simply supposed to win on the clay and make his mark as a one surface specialist? Well it turns out that the 22-year-old Nadal is just as mentally tough as Woods and Federer. Sorry Lefty, but this left-hander has given tennis something our current era of golf will never be able to appreciate – a true rivalry.

Woods’ painful performance at Torrey Pines will certainly go down as one of the greatest individual efforts of all-time but his journeyman dance partner just doesn’t have what it takes to win the argument. As we saw on Sunday at Wimbledon, it takes two to tango and produce a truly epic battle.