Steven Birenbaum: A Sports Fan Arrives

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Sports can be so much more than just a game. Steven Birenbaum has this story.

Sports have a way of bringing us together. Before he died, my father, brother and I formed a triad, digesting all manner of ball games. When I moved to the Bay Area from New York, where I grew up, sports kept us close despite the distance.

My mother, by contrast, is no sports fan. This is someone who brought a book to our Little League games. Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned she was tuned into the Men’s Final at Wimbledon.

Part of it was the storyline. Could a sparkly new kid replace the old emperor? At 36, Novak Djokovic has won more Grand Slams, on more surfaces, than anyone in the history of men’s tennis. Yet many dislike him, especially for his refusal to get the COVID vaccine, earning him the nickname “NoVax.”

His opponent, Carlos Alcaraz, aka “Carlito,” had supplanted him to become world Number One. Carlito combines remarkable power, speed and touch, and an otherworldly maturity and grace, at the tender age of 20.


Novak was the “odds on” favorite having taken the previous two Slams, including on the red clay at the French. There, in the Semis, felled by nerves, Carlito cramped up and Novak dispatched him in four efficient sets.

Wimbledon was different, a five-set tug of war in which both worked feverishly to seize control. The fifth game of the third set alone ran 26 minutes! After he won that pivotal game, Carlito raised a finger to his ear, a now signature move. The crowd exploded.

Exhaling, the three of us exchanged a flurry of texts. “I can’t take it!” my mom wrote. “How do they deal with the pressure?” Never had I heard her so enthralled by a sporting event.

In the end Carlito prevailed. A photo captures him lying on the worn grass in disbelief, as Novak walks dejectedly to net.

Watching this epic drama with my family from opposite coasts, it felt as if my dad was there with us. This is the power of sports to bring us together.

With a Perspective, I’m Steven Birenbaum.

Steven Birenbaum is a writer and communications professional in Berkeley.