Perry Moss, the head coach of the Montreal Alouettes football team in the early 1960s, once declared, "the best team always wins."
It was a profound statement because the numbers on the scoreboard do not lie. By the letter of the law, he is correct.
On the other hand, all sports fans know that unpredictable bounces, errors by officials, injury issues, preparation issues, serendipitous happenings and just plain dumb luck can determine the outcome of a game or match. When the result can come down to millimetres as to whether a ball is in or out, a puck is in the net or not - with many of those rulings made by fallible human beings (with allowances for instant replay and modern technologies such as Hawk-Eye in tennis) - the difference between winning and losing can be a very fine line.
With all that in mind, here's my take on tennis's 2008 Grand Slam year - a purely subjective view on not who actually won the women's and men's titles, but on who should have won them.
AUSTRALIAN OPEN Women: Winner - Maria Sharapova
Should have won: Sharapova.
An in-full-flight Sharapova, a year after being crushed 6-1, 6-2 in the final by Serena Williams, beat Lindsay Davenport, Justine Henin and Jelena Jankovic (losing just four games to each) before overcoming Ana Ivanovic 7-5, 6-3 in the final. Henin, in what was her final Grand Slam event, and Serena (beaten by Jankovic) didn't look 100 per cent physically but Sharapova was playing so well there could be no arguments she was a deserving winner.
Men: Winner - Novak Djokovic
Should have won: Djokovic.
Sure Federer was diminished by mononucleosis, but Djokovic had come close to beating him in the previous Grand Slam final (set points in both the first and second sets) at the 2007 US Open. Djokovic defeated Federer 7-5, 6-3, 7-5(5) in the semi-finals and tournament revelation Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (fresh off a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 demolition of Rafael Nadal in the semi-final) in a hotly-contested final 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(2).
FRENCH OPEN Women: Winner - Ana Ivanovic
Should have won: Ivanovic.
Without four-time champion Henin in the field, and with the Williams sisters surprisingly ousted by Katarina Srebotnik (Serena) and Flavia Pennetta (Venus), Ivanovic defeated compatriot Jankovic in a tough semi-final and Dinara Safina in the final to take over the world No. 1 ranking.
Men: Winner - Rafael Nadal
Should have won: Nadal.
For his fourth Roland Garros title in a row, and without losing a set, he humiliated Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 in the final. Enough said.
WIMBLEDON Winner: Venus Williams
Should have won - Serena Williams
The sisters (Venus with four Wimbledon titles and Serena with two) were the class of the event. But Serena, who missed 2006 with a knee injury and was limited by a wonky left thumb (two-handed backhand) in a 2007 quarter-final loss to Henin, has indisputably been a better overall player than Venus. She started off on fire by taking a 4-1 lead in the first set, seemingly validating her superiority. But she got tight and did not hit out freely for much of the rest of the match, allowing Venus to rally and win her fifth Wimbledon.
Serena denied being nervous, saying, "I just think I lost rhythm and then I just made a lot of errors. I just couldn't get balls in. Nothing I was doing was seeming to work."
Men: Winner - Rafael Nadal
Should have won: Roger Federer.
Meeting for the third year in a row in the final, they were clearly the two best players. The final was one for the ages, a magnificent exhibition of tennis marred only by two rain interruptions. Nadal won 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(8), 9-7. Federer deserved to win one of the first two sets, especially the second when he led 4-1. But it seemed as if in the early going he lacked a certain self-belief, probably still feeling the aftershock of the shellacking Nadal gave him four weeks earlier in Paris.
Giving Nadal a two-set advantage was ultimately too steep a hill to climb, but Federer was just slightly better overall and probably would have won a sixth Wimbledon if he started in a more positive frame of mind. By the numbers, Federer was plus-37 (89 winners and 52 unforced errors) and Nadal was plus-33 (60 winners and 27 unforced errors).
For the record, I think Nadal should have won the 2007 final when he held two break points in each of Federer's first two service games in the fifth set. Federer was in a serious funk (distracted by Hawk-Eye calls etc.) and vulnerable but he became reinvigorated after saving those four break points.
US OPEN Women: Winner - Serena Williams
Should have won: Venus Williams
Serena won her two toughest matches in straight sets, and it's hard to believe she managed to save a grand total of 14 set points in those four sets. While there were four in the second set of her 6-4, 7-5 win in the final over Jelena Jankovic, where she really flirted with disaster was against Venus in a 7-6(6), 7-6(7) quarter-final win. Venus had eight set points in the first set and two more in the second. An increasingly frantic-looking Serena, who pulled out of an event after the US Open with an ankle injury, may have been vulnerable physically. If Jankovic or Venus had gotten to a third set in their matches with Serena, her fitness might have been exposed.
Men: Winner - Roger Federer
Should have won: Andy Murray
Federer got a huge break by finishing his semi-final with Djokovic on Saturday while Murray had to complete his emotionally draining 6-2, 7-6(5), 4-6, 7-5 semi-final win over Nadal on Sunday after rain on Saturday. Benefiting from an additional day's rest, Federer was fresher mentally and physically and defeated Murray 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 in the Monday final.
Worth noting, Murray won their two subsequent meetings in the fall, in Madrid and Shanghai - both by 7-5 in the third set scores.
YEAR-END No. 1 Women: The WTA Tour computer says - Jelena Jankovic
Should be considered No. 1: Serena Williams
US Open runner-up Jankovic did not win a Grand Slam title while Serena won Flushing Meadows and was a finalist at Wimbledon.
A total of 17 results are used in calculating a player's ranking. Since Serena only played 13 tournaments to 22 for Jankovic, the Serb had a clear advantage.
Also, the No. 2-ranked Serena led 2-1 in their head-to-head for the year.
Men: The ATP computer says - Rafael Nadal
Should be considered No. 1: Nadal
With 6,674 ranking points to 5,303 for Federer and 5,295 for Djokovic, Nadal was totally worthy of No. 1. He won French Open and Wimbledon titles, as well as a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics - and those major wins were on clay, grass and hard courts.
MATCH TOUGH NOTE: Any recent attempts by Canadian tennis officials to convince Ottawa-raised (until age 13) Jesse Levine, now resident in Boca Raton, Fla., to represent Canada internationally would appear to have been for naught. Levine, 21 and ranked No. 135, will take part in the United States Tennis Association's eight-man play-off for a wild-card spot in next month's Australian Open singles draw beginning this Friday in Boca Raton.