Instant Replay: Mishap Keeps Match Results in the Dark
All was in order when my wife, Jane, and I returned home from a quick, early morning round of golf on Pinehurst No. 3 a week ago today.
Our DirecTV electronic machinery appeared to be doing as it had been programmed when I pushed the record button for the Wimbledon men's final match before we left home shortly after breakfast.
I knew this because when we got back home at about 12:45 p.m. the little yellow light on the front of the DVR receiver was on. This indicated to one aged and dense operator of modern electronic toys that we were set to enjoy, at our leisure, the Roger Federer--Rafael Nadal championship match.
That DVR (digital video recorder) was instructed to record the complete NBC telecast from Wimbledon last Sunday. At least that is what I thought. When I pushed the record button it meant the entire 6 hours of NBC tennis telecast scheduled from 9 am to 3 p.m. EDT would be saved for us to watch when we so desired.
But Mother Nature and a couple of never-say-die tennis players conspired to rob us of the exciting finish to what was tabbed, even before it ended, as the "greatest" match in the 131-year history of the All England Championships at Wimbledon. I agree that it was as good a tennis match as I ever witnessed -- up to the point when Jane and I were cut off.
I can also blame myself for not thinking ahead. But who ever expected these two guys to be extended to a total of over seven hours while playing the longest championship match in Wimbledon history --- four hours and 48 minutes?
During well over half a century of covering sports, I have waited and waited for hours of delayed action at golf matches, major league baseball games, track meets, etc. because of weather delays. I have been required to remain for an extra day or two because such weather interruptions forced postponements. Maybe I should have foreseen such trouble. But I did not.
The result was that our recording was cut off with the magnificent battle in the fifth set at 2 games each and the score of the fifth game at deuce. That is where Nadal and Federer were when the second rain delay interrupted their action just before 8 p.m. London time or 3 p.m. EDT. A few minutes of talking heads babbling concluded our recording. That was it for us. We had no recourse other than to turn to ESPN and find out what happened.
There, on Sports Center, we were given the conclusion to this magnificent struggle that lasted more than 11 games after our recording ended before Nadal collapsed to the grass court in victorious exhaustion
I could have avoided this and recorded every bit of that fifth and final set. But I blame it on not using my experience to think way, way ahead.
All I had to do was to record the scheduled 6 hours of tennis plus those programs on NBC following the listed tennis. After all, NBC had to continue its live Wimbledon telecast by usurping time from the ensuing network telecasts.
But even if I had done this, how many hours of those next programs should I have recorded? Just how far into the British night would this thing go?
The way it worked for us was that after getting home we had a bit of lunch, relaxed and did a quick read of the Sunday newspapers. Then we sat back, relaxed and began to watch a championship tennis match. By then it was after 2 p.m.. The recording process was still going on although it had less than an hour to finish its assignment.
As we started to watch the match it appeared it would end quickly the way Nadal took those first two sets, 6-4, 6-4. This is when Federer turned in an amazing, renascent performance to extend play well beyond what most folks would consider unplayable darkness.
Watching the recording took far less time than the actual time consumed because we employed the fast forward gizmo during rest periods, commercials and the first rain delay that lasted an hour and 21 minutes in the third set.
It was about 6 p.m. in Pinehurst when our luck (recording) ran out. By then it was long past time to save things since the actual recording process for us had ended about three hours earlier.
I have covered many a British Open golf championship with play going well into dusk on those Scottish links courses such as St. Andrews, Troop, Muirfield, etc. That means after 10 p.m. that far north in mid-July. These courses are about 55 to 56 degrees north latitude.
The All England Tennis Club is in a London suburb, Wimbledon. This is between 51 and 52 degrees north latitude. Wimbledon officials were really pushing it when they let Nadal and Federer continue to the end in the dark. The match ended at 9:16 p.m. London time or 4:16 EDT.
To give an idea how far north the British tennis and golf grounds are, Moore County is about 35 degrees north latitude and it is pitch dark (without full moon) by 9:15 p.m. these days in the Sandhills.
London is on the same latitude with the Bay of St. James, that finger of ocean at the southern end of Hudson Bay.
Because Mother Nature opened up on Wimbledon with rain a couple of times and because the sun remains above the horizon well into night hours that far north at this time of year, the young man from the island of Majorca and the world's No. 1 player from Switzerland were just barely able to finish. However, Federer said he could not see who he was playing against when he hit that sad forehand into the net that ended the struggle on a rather flat note.
To continue the match until Monday would have been a travesty. These two men had to finish the championship when they did even if Old Sol had little to give in the way of help on those last few points.
But while those two were struggling to the bitter end, you can be sure there were golfers far north of Wimbledon playing the game they love on Scottish, Irish and even some Northern English courses.
My favorite golf course is Lahinch in Ireland where, in June and July, men and women have an early dinner and head out on that spectacular links after 7 p.m. to play entire 18 holes of golf. Lahinch is between 53 and 54 degrees north latitude.
Donald Ross, the architect of Pinehurst No. 2 and many other fine golf courses, was born in Dornoch, Scotland, where he grew up learning the game of golf on Royal Dornoch, a spectacular links course so far north it is just below the Land of the Midnight Sun. Dornoch is at about 58 degrees north latitude. Golfers tee it up at midnight during June and July at Royal Dornoch and play an entire 18-hole round without any difficulty on this great course facing the North Sea.
But when it comes to tennis inside a stadium such as surrounds Wimbledon's Centre Court, you are pushing the envelope even that far north in mid- summer as Nadal and Federer did up to 9:16 p.m. last Sunday.
Of course, this will never happen again and rain and darkness will no longer be a factor during the championship matches at Wimbledon. A retractable roof will be completed over the Wimbledon Stadium before next year's All England Tennis Championships.
Jane and I can go off to play golf on Championship Sunday at Wimbledon, record the match and expect to have it all in the can when we get home.
But what if the roof gets stuck open? Should I take that into account next year?
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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