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It’s the offseason and I drew the short straw at BC’s editorial assignment meeting. That means I got tennis, which means you get words about small rubber balls tightly covered in yellow felt.

About a month ago, parlin encouraged me to engage in the tennis versus MMA debate. Admittedly, taking on a well-constructed position by Scipio Tex is a classic blunder that ranks somewhere between being involved in a land war in Asia and taking on a Sicilian when death is on the line, but parlin wrote my favorite post in recent history, so I’ll oblige.

Besides, MMA is dumb. Not the idiotic kind of stupid, more like Hollywood-type dumb. MMA is to sport as Will Ferrell is to movies.

But this column isn’t about MMA. It’s about tennis – that glorious game of skill that was popularized by European aristocrats in the 19th century. Yes, aristocrats – eat your heart out golf prick.

I played competitively until hormones won the war for my attention. Damn those high school girls and their ruination of a globetrotting career on the tour.

I tell you that not because it’s impressive. What it should do is indicate to you that when I say Roger Federer is a greater champion than Tiger Woods (many times over), I mean it and I believe it to my core. And I’m not talking about 2011 Tiger, I’m talking 2000.

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Federer = Kwisatch Haderach

A critical aspect of the game that many people fail to appreciate is how solitary tennis is. There is no team to rely on when a player is off their game. I told you that this piece isn’t about MMA, but at an elemental level, there are strong similarities between tennis and mixed martial arts. In fact, many players liken walking into a stadium and playing a big match to a gladiator stepping into the arena.

To someone that doesn’t follow the sport that likely sounds hysterical. UFC makes a point to promote the physicality of contests. Compare that to tennis’ complete lack of violence and the two are polar opposites. Tennis is extremely physical, but that will never be confused with anything remotely related to brutality.

The link between the two sports lies in the setting, the strategy and the solitary nature of the combatants. Andy Roddick doesn’t risk being kicked in the head, but he is faced with the task of pitting his skill against the opposition, calculating their strategy and altering his own tactics every moment of every match. On the plus side, Roddick doesn’t have to wear Affliction shirts.

Combine that individualistic harshness with the skill of putting racket to ball and the tactical measure used in every shot, and you begin to catch a glimpse of how tennis can be addicting. Overlay that with a global presence only matched by soccer. How do you say win in Hindi?

And right now tennis is in a golden era.[/infomercial voice]

During the last decade, tennis witnessed the greatest athlete to ever take the court. Federerererer’s accomplishments easily make him the greatest tennis player of all-time. How many other sports can point to one individual whose accomplishments stand so singularly? I am under 40 and the only athlete in the conversation during my lifetime is Michael Jordan.

Yet many NBA fans will argue that Wilt was better than Jordan. At least with the lockout, there will be plenty of time for them to debate.

Golf is the same way. For all of Tiger Woods’ winning on the course, most fans believe Jack Nicklaus is the best golfer in history.

Remember what Vince Young did at two consecutive Rose Bowls? Federer lived in that kind of zone for four or five years.

But Federer’s reign is coming to an end. After losing an amazing match to up-and-coming Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the FedExpress will not reach this year’s Final at Wimbledon.

At the ripe old age of 29, Federer has become a still athlete and is having an increasingly difficult time consistently beating the game’s young stars. The loss certainly doesn’t diminish his career or his GOAT status, it is merely a referendum on the passage of time.

In fact, it is that difference of a 23 year-old versus a 29 year-old that exemplifies the athleticism required by tennis. As opposed to a pure skill, tennis demands athletic excellence in combination with the requisite skill.

Baseball is a game of skill. You’ll find CC Sabathia wallowing at Hill Country’s AYCE night before you catch him in a gym.

Golf? Skill. Not up for debate. You won’t see a man in his mid or late 40’s winning a tennis Major.

The necessary blend of skill and athleticism has been on display for the last fortnight at the All England Tennis Club. Wimbledon, one of tennis’ Grand Slam championships, is hallowed ground much like Augusta National for golfers. The 2011 tournament has proven full of storylines and intrigue and this weekend’s finals promise to be worth a watch.

Speaking of being worthy of a look-see, the women’s tour has the most attractive, professional female athletes on the planet. I’m talking about straight-up glamazons – the WTA is full of them. No other sport provides a platform of athleticism and femininity like tennis, and the queen bee, Maria Sharapova, is in Saturday’s final.

Other than her choice of a husband, Sharapova is flawless. She embodies the blend of skill, attractiveness, mental toughness, athleticism and competitive spirit that isn’t found in any other professional women’s leagues like it is in tennis.

If you can’t get past Sharapova’s on-court shrieking, then mute the TV. Better yet, consider that this right-handed player had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in her right shoulder. The comeback hasn’t always been easy to watch, but undoing 20 years of muscle memory and relearning a new service motion while being scrutinized by the media and public is the only kind of reality TV I’ll watch.

Unlike Maria, the ATP and WTA are certainly not without faults. There is a disregard of PED’s that does Bud Selig justice. Tennis players also flop like Manu Ginobli and abuse mid-match medical timeouts without consequence. Here in the US, there is a void of promising young male talent that is poised to compete on tour. These are several minor undercurrents of today’s game, but none threaten tennis’ position as an afterthought in sports.

But I don’t care about the game’s status as a second class citizen. I’m a self-admitted junkie and I’ll be tapping the vein when I tune in to the Wimbledon finals on Saturday and Sunday. I’m married to college football, but tennis is my mistress.

You probably read the first paragraph, saw this was about tennis, and skipped to the bottom, so I’ll sum it up for you:
Tennis > MMA
Roger Federer > Tiger Woods
You haven’t seen hotter on campus than Sharapova.

Blast away…