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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lions in Winter

(Disclaimer: This entry is laced with testosterone. Hey! I’m a guy! Deal.)

Tennis has been a BIG part of my life. I started playing while in grammar school and continued playing, with increasing intensity and competence, over the course of four decades. I loved the head-to-head competition, the long hours on the court spent in training to develop the skills necessary. I was a tennis junkie, practicing most nights (either indoors or outdoors), a participant in various competitive leagues, playing for five or six hours per day on weekends, vacationing at tennis camps, reading about, spectating and reveling in the game.

Those days are over. My knees and hips are held together by virtue of baling wire, bubblegum and prayer, severely damaged by the thousands of hours spent on hard courts. Passion gave way to pain, but I gotta say...I still love the game.

Hand-in-hand with my love of the game came admiration for its champions. My affections began with those magnificent Aussies, Rod Laver and John Newcombe. Others followed in succession: Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Mats Wilander, Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and Roger Federer. Each champion held dominion over the hard courts, the grass or clay, during their days in the sun.

I thrilled to witness their excellence.

As the years sped past, as my skills decayed, as I witnessed one champion after another fall in defeat at the feet of a younger, hungrier adversary, I came to view decisive matches, these inevitable surrenders of the crown, as metaphors for life itself. Life as old as the echoes of lions roaring across the verdant grasslands of the Serengeti.

Lions are the only cats that live in groups, which are called prides. Prides are family units that may include up to three males, a dozen or so females, and their young. All of a pride's lionesses are related, and female cubs typically
stay with the group as they age. Young males eventually leave and establish their own prides by taking over a group headed by another male.

The male lion is born destined to rule. In that fierce, relentless struggle to give birth to life, to survive, the male lion must grow to dominate his hunting ground, to foster and defend his pride. Lions do as they must. Every lion must face his challengers. No matter his strength, his wiles, his courage and fortitude, the lion in winter is fated to meet young muscle, supple sinew and hot blood, and is, literally, doomed to relinquish his throne. And life goes on...the night air fills with the roars of new kings...and the yelps of the newborn.

Life inexorably marches on.

I’ve never been to Sub-Saharan Africa. I’ve never seen a lion in the wild, nor heard their roars echoing in the twilight.

But I have seen the lion-hearted. I’ve seen lions in winter. I’ve watched great champions stride upon the courts of battle, none more legendary than the clipped grass of Centre Court at Wimbledon, where champions come to be crowned...and dethroned.

And so it came to pass that, this past Sunday, Roger Federer (held by some/many to be the GREATEST tennis player, ever) met Raphael Nadal on Centre Court, to vie (yet, again) for the Wimbledon trophy.

Federer had been crowned the Champion of Wimbledon five years running. He vanquished Nadal last year, in an epic struggle. They were fated to meet again.

An epic match, it was. Five sets...two tie-breakers...rain delays...the longest men’s final in Wimbledon history. When all was said and done, as day gave way to night, Federer lost to Nadal, the handsome Spaniard rippling with muscle and sinew and desire. Federer, the formidable champion, conceded nothing, never lost his nerve nor his wisdom. He simply a stronger, faster, hungrier lion.

And he cried.

I knew he would.

I knew he would because I, myself, am a lion in winter (well...OK...
more a pussycat than a lion, but work with me, here, people
I could sense the outcome, well before night fell and the accolades accorded. Roger Federer had met his all lions must.

I was ineffably moved, as twilight descended upon the field of battle, as Raphael Nadal circumnavigated the Court with prized trophy in hand and cameras panned the cheering throng. There, in the fading light, stood Bjorn Borg, applauding. His mane completely gray...
his summer days (like mine) long past.

We lions in winter understood.

* * *


Blogger Scott from Oregon said...

I too, played a lot of tennis and had to stop because of a spine that rattles when I walk.

I stopped watchng tennis a few years ago because it made me sad to watch and not run out and play.

I once had a world class serve and never had anything but a horrific backhand...

As the song goes, "the older I get, the better I used to be..."

You may enjoy this--

Thu Jul 10, 07:59:00 PM  
Blogger Lone Chatelaine said...

beautifully sad, tragic, yet honorary

I love the way you write.

Thu Jul 10, 08:12:00 PM  
Blogger shadowlands6822 said...

Well put. I think our generation will have the hardest of times facing the winter of life...we loved much, worked and played hard, hoped for more and won some victories...all are things that we hoped would never end....

But, with the gray hair comes a few compensations....enjoy.

Fri Jul 11, 03:55:00 AM  
Blogger Cheesy said...

I have found that Gorilla Glue works well for the crumbling knees!

That WAS a competition of beauty... I was never very good at tennis but I do enjoy it.

Fri Jul 11, 08:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had to stop playing tennis too after a bad knee injury. I miss it so much but I do enjoy watching the 'lions' play. Sometimes I imagine it's me out there, captivating the crowd!

Fri Jul 11, 09:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For many a year, the Sunday morning of the men's final was always reserved for just that. Many years were a bore but this was and would certainly be different.

I didn't care who won but was amazed at the class showed by both not just dring the match but afterward.

Once again Jonas, well stated.


Fri Jul 11, 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Maithri said...

Beautiful Post,

Lions in winter perhaps, but lions nonetheless.

Peace and light,


Fri Jul 11, 03:49:00 PM  
Blogger Brenda Starr said...

Jonas, you blow me away again and again. You made me tear up and laugh and no, there was not too much testosterone, you pussy cat!

Sat Jul 12, 10:25:00 AM  
Blogger anna said...

I'm not sure exactly why, but I absolutely loved this post. It may even be my favourite of all your posts.

Sat Jul 12, 09:08:00 PM  
Blogger Jay said...

Poetic and enlighting. But also a warning to the "Lions in Summer". There's a slight chill in the air. Winter is comming.

Or as the poet says. "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may".

Mon Jul 14, 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger rebecca said...

that was some match between nadal and federer. unbelievable. and i voiced the very same thing when all was said and done: a new cub is in town and he's roaring to go. because he is a cub, but a formidable cub indeed.

and my old time faves were bjorn borg and sampras. oh, how i loved the acing ability and coolness of sampras (such a contrast to emotional mcenroe!).

another good post....

Mon Jul 14, 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Thank you, Dear Hearts, for all of the comments. I never suspected that a tennis-oriented post would resonate with so many of you.

Um, Scott, that video was a bit too testosterone-heavy for this aging pussycat.

Thank you, Ms. Chatelaine.

I think aging and mortality affect every generation much the same, Ms. Shadowlands. Life is a poignant endeavor, no?

Now tell me where I can find SUPER Gorilla Glue, Ms. Cheese!

I simply do not have sufficient imagination, Selma, to contemplate what it must be like to be crowned a champion.

Yes, Mr. Stihl, it was a most satisfying competition, most gratifying to witness excellence.

Thank you, Maithri. Welcome back.

Ah, you're too sweet, Brenda.

Thank you, Anna. I find readers' comments to be most fascinating.

Yes, Jay, summer is but one of the four seasons of life. All are meaningful (and beautiful) in their own right.

Thank you, Rebecca. Like you, I'm more partial to the stoics than the dramatists.

Thu Jul 17, 06:57:00 AM  
Blogger Ms. Skywalker said...

I've picked up a tennis racket twice; a million years ago, and have never understood any of it.

I did watch the recap of that match though--it's something any type of athlete (or former athlete) could relate to.

Of course, you said it far more eloquently that I could ever express.

Fri Jul 18, 05:52:00 AM  
Blogger Cheesy said...
Or any department/hardware store lol

Tue Jul 22, 10:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wimbledon, the true throne of a champion. And a very expensive place to live.

Thanks for this account Jonas. The second outstanding piece I have read - the other was from Sweder.

The match of the century, and somehow I missed it. At the critical moment, I was still exhausted by the heroics of Andy Murray earlier in the week and the young Scot's decisively brutal trampling by Nadal. I was more than fed up as well, with so many colleagues and friends finding luck in the ballot for tickets during the fortnight this year, with no such good fortune for me.

Lamentable excuses. Since more to the point, I had eschewed tennis altogether in favour of reliving my youth by watching The Jam.

In past years, we've been able to catch up with such missed footage with endless repeats shown during Wimbledon's predictably unpredictable rain delays. But all that is changing, since from next year the Centre Court will finally have a roof.

At least I could reminisce with you about listening to the Borg-McEnroe classic final on a fuzzy radio in the Australian outback ... and I'll never tire of watching re-runs of that tiebreak.

Wed Jul 23, 05:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sat Apr 18, 10:41:00 AM  

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