Sat Sep 10 10:15pm EDT
Roger Federer is a great tennis champion who comports himself with class and dignity in victory. As a loser, his attitude leaves a lot to be desired.
Following his stunning collapse against Novak Djokovic in Saturday's U.S. Open semifinal, Federer took a jab at his opponent's decision to slap a crosscourt forehand on match point. In the eyes of Federer, it was a desperation shot unbecoming a champion.
First, watch the shot again. John McEnroe called it one of the best returns in tennis history.
Here's Federer's post-match quote:
"Some players grow up and play like that. I remember losing junior matches and being down 5-2 in the third and they start slapping shots and they all go in for some reason. That's the way they grew up playing when they were down. I never play that way. I believe hard work's going to pay off. [...] So for me this is very hard for me to understand how you can play a shot like that on match point. But maybe he's been doing it for 20 years. Maybe for him it's very normal. You'll have to ask him."
It wasn't said in a conciliatory tone. It was said like a man who thinks that shot was beneath him, who thinks that Djokovic was disrespecting the game by having the audacity to play such a point.
Djokovic's explanation was simple. "You have to take your chances when presented," he said after the match.
Even if Federer is right and Djokovic was taking a "devil may care" attitude, it doesn't make the shot any less legitimate. It's like a football coach going for fourth-and-3 in the fourth quarter. Desperate times, desperate measures right?
Nothing against Federer, mind you. I like athletes who care so much it hurts. When Peyton Manning walks off the field at the Super Bowl without shaking hands or LeBron James does the same, I don't have a problem with it. Sportsmanship isn't about phony handshakes and false compliments. There are plenty of ways to be a good loser that don't include giving the opponent a man-hug at center court and speaking cliches about how you gave it your all but didn't have enough. Taking passive-aggressive shots against your opponent isn't one of those ways.
Considering how gutted I was (and still am) for Federer after the match, I can't fathom what he felt like in the aftermath of the loss. No amount of disappointment should lead to jabs like that.
Win with class, Roger, lose with class.
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