Although it's possible that a major study has been done on the psychological stress borne by fans during a tense sports event -- well, any sports event -- I couldn't turn up such a valuable white paper. Although I did discover a report briefly acknowledging that fans may experience psychological damage, I couldn't find one that carried on at length about what sports fans can go through on an otherwise sunny summer morning or afternoon or, for that matter, on a blustery winter morning or afternoon.
The impetus to look for an expert thesis has hit me before but rarely as forcibly as it did when I was watching this year's Wimbledon final between Andy Roddick and Roger Federer. And of course -- given the final score (yes, Federer won) 6-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14(!) -- the psychological stress I suffered went on for some time. As a matter of fact, although it's abated somewhat, it continues now.
Does this happen to everyone? It didn't to the friends with whom I watched, who took everything calmly, calling me "wuss" and "wimp" for moaning so. On the other hand, another friend of mine, viewing at a different location, said he, too, behaved as I did -- which was getting up after many games to decompress away from the television screen. I didn't ask if he was also muttering "I can't take this anymore" and similar dire expressions as he paced for the almost four hours the damn match ran.
Yes, sports followers, I'm looking for the scientific analysis of the fans'-woes phenomenon plumbed for its effects during the course of one day and then over a lifetime. I want someone to explain what triggers such tsuris (Yiddish for deep despair) and why anyone elects to undergo the pain when he or she could be listening to Frank Sinatra singing Cole Porter's "Just One of Those Things." It can't simply be for the pleasure of a favorite's eventual victory, a victory that, in this Federer-Roddick re-match -- never materialized after so many intimations that it might.
In this contest I was rooting for Roddick, who was playing his heart out and playing outstanding tennis while at it. (He's got a killer back-hand now, where there was none before.) I admire Federer but don't necessarily agree that his 15 grand-slam wins automatically confirm him the greatest tennis player ever -- not when Rod Laver also dallied in the sport.
I figure Federer a leadpipe cinch to amass enough grand-slam victories to hold the record for many years to come. He's so likely to forge ahead that this year's Wimbledon was hardly a sine qua non for him. So what if Laver, Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras showed up to watch him break Sampras's 14 grand-slams record?
On the other racket-wielding hand, Roddick -- who's shown jaw-dropping improvement this year -- fought so hard to overcome the also-ran status to which he appeared to be consigned until recently that he almost seemed to deserve being handed the good cup. Almost, but not quite, because no one gets handed it.
It has to be won, but Roddick came so close he all but snagged it. To think he was only broken once in the historic match -- and that break the one that gave Federer his triumph. Roddick was playing such championship tennis that I'm tempted to say -- as others may be -- that this year's Wimbledon match was won by both players.
But it wasn't, and I'm still smarting at the second-set tie-break point that Roddick missed at 6-5 by misdirecting that #!x@c#% overhead shot. Sure, I concede I'm not smarting over it as much as Roddick must be. Indeed, I acknowledge that nothing I'm feeling can be a patch on Roddick's feelings, which are never far from the surface.
To understand that he'll be mourning this one for weeks to come -- if not months and years -- all you have to do is scope out the advertisement the Lacoste folks ran in Monday's newspapers. Congratulating Roddick, they featured a full-length photograph of Roddick as he left the court. The grief engraved on his face is unmistakable.
Still, I was having a hard time of it -- me, who has appreciated Roddick's career but not in the way I admired Andre Agassi's even more spectacular 1992 Wimbledon comeback. Over the course of the match, I lived the sort of mental anguish that eventually becomes physical. And why? I don't know Andy Roddick. I'll never know him, What's he to me, and, more pathetically, what am I to him? All the same, I was going through hell on his behalf.
Can't someone who understands these things explain? Or does no one understand these things? Maybe that's the answer. Anyway, you go, Andy. Sweating and aching, I'm on your side of the court at the US open this year.