By Ken Reed

While most of this week in sports has been dominated by the “Deflategate” scandal surrounding the New England Patriots, we were also blessed with a great example of sportsmanship from the world of tennis.

Tennis great Rafael Nadal was on the ropes at the Australian Open during a second round match. In fact, he was on the verge of being knocked out of the tournament by an unknown qualifier from the United States, Tim Smyczek.

Nadal, who was struggling with fatigue, dizziness and nausea for much of the match, was serving in the fifth set, leading 6-5. But during a first serve toss, a fan hollered loudly from the stands, disrupting his service motion. Nadal’s serve flew long.

Smyczek quickly held up two fingers to the chair umpire, meaning Nadal should be allowed another chance to serve his first serve. The umpire granted Smyczek’s request. Nadal gave a gesture of thanks to Smyczek and then pumped a first serve that Smyczek was unable to return. The game ended up going to deuce before Nadal pulled it out, winning the set 7-5 and the match 6-2, 3-6, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-5.

The story of the day at the Australian Open wasn’t who won or lost. It was Smyczek’s grand gesture during the final moments of a long match against Nadal. Undoubtedly, a win over Nadal would’ve been the biggest of Smyczek’s career. But Smyczek put “doing the right thing” ahead of a possible career-defining victory.

“I couldn’t make out what the guy yelled, but it was really loud, and it was right when he was tossing,” said Smyczek. “I know my parents would’ve killed me if I didn’t (give Nadal a re-serve). It was the right thing to do.”

Yes, it was the right thing to do. But he didn’t have to do it. There’s nothing in the rules requiring a replay. It’s likely that very few players would have the character to do what he did, when he did it.

Nadal was very grateful for Smyczek’s act of sportsmanship.

“I want to congratulate Tim — he’s a real gentleman for what he did in that last game,” said Nadal in an on-court interview after the match. “Not a lot of people will do this at 6-5 in the fifth … He’s a great example, what he did today.”

Nadal’s public relations manager, Benito Perez-Barbadillo, was even more effusive in his praise.

“I think he deserves the sportsmanship award for the next 10 years, and I’m going to be pushing for that,” said Perez-Barbadillo. “I’ve never seen that, and I’ve been in tennis for 19 years. Unbelievable.”

What a nice break from the inanity of the NFL’s “Deflategate.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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