Two Gentlemen in Paris

Published: June 9, 2014

By Jim Lichtman
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It’s easy to succumb to cynicism from the recent ethics-related scandals causing one to lose sight of everyday acts of civility.

At the end of the men’s final at this year’s French Open, Rafael Nadal stood on the podium to accept the top prize and the crowd’s approval after four hard-fought sets of tennis against his rival Novak Djokovic. Not long after the dust settled on the clay battlefield, the headlines followed.

“Rafael Nadal beats Novak Djokovic to win French Open,”USA Today posted, (June 8).

“Nadal tops Djokovic: 9th French Open, 14th major,” TheWashington Post writes, ,(June 8).

Beyond the statistics, however, there were other elements that made the match special. Both men were gracious in their acknowledgments of each other.

“It’s not impossible,” Djokovic said, “but it’s very, very difficult to stay with Rafa in this court, throughout the whole match, on the highest level of performance. I played at the maximum of my power, my strength, and my capability,” Djokovic added, “but Rafa was the best player.”

“Well,” Nadal said, “in matches like this every moment is crucial. All the points are so hard. Playing against Novak always is a great challenge. Every time I have a chance to beat him I am playing at my limit.”

While both men were in top physical condition, Djokovic clearly suffered from an upset stomach in the 81 degree heat and 48% humidity. However, the Serbian player never complained. Nadal also appeared to struggle through a few back problems during the fourth set, but rallied to close out the match.

“For sure the day of today was very tough, very humid,” Nadalsaid. “The combination of two weeks of cold with the drastic change of yesterday and today, so today was the first real day that we play with that conditions. This big change I think affects us, affects our physical performance.”

During the many close line calls, both men remained calm as the umpire left his chair to confirm the ball marks in the clay. The French have yet to adopt the high-tech Hawk Eye used to verify close calls at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Although Djokovic had just come off four recent wins against Nadal, he remained reflective in his post-match press conference.

“My best wasn’t as the best against him in Rome a couple weeks ago … He was a better player in the crucial moments. Of course it’s disappointing for me, but life goes on.”

Acknowledging his rival, Nadal said, “I’m sure that you will win here in the future. I don’t have any doubt about that.”

Two gentlemen met in Paris, both equal in skill and fortitude, and while one came away with a prize, both displayed equal amounts of dignity, respect, and self-determination in pursuit of excellence.

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