Tennis fans got a pleasant reminder of what makes their sport different than most on Friday and it had nothing to do with stirring victories at the French Open by Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
Nadal, the world No. 1, gave a graceful display of sportsmanship when his overruling of a line call gave Andy Murray a game early in the match. The five-time tournament champion had rallied from 0-40 down in the opening game of the second set before leveling the game at deuce. He pushed a forehand wide, giving Murray a game point.
Murray sent his serve down the middle of the court and it was ruled long by a linesman. As Murray prepared for a second serve, Nadal checked the mark, saw that it had bounced on the line and began walking off the court. He gave Murray the game.
If Nadal hadn't done that, would the chair umpire have come down and seen the mark himself, ruling it good? Maybe. Or maybe, like in yesterday's Maria Sharapova-Li Na match, the chair umpire would have seen a different mark or made a ruling that would replay the serve. Any number of different scenarios could have have happened. None of them did, because Nadal demonstrated why he's considered one of the world's great sportsmen.
Maybe his influence seeped into Novak Djokovic. In the following match, Djokovic called a Roger Federer shot good that was also ruled long by a linesman. The point didn't give Federer the game, a fact which doesn't diminish Djokovic's noble deed.
In a sport like tennis, where a player makes their own calls from the time they begin playing matches, such sportsmanship is the rule, not the exception. (Golf has a similar code of conduct.) You aren't going to see an NBA game where a ref calls a foul and LeBron James politely waves it off and says it didn't happen. Tom Brady doesn't pick up a flag when a defender legally goes at his knees and the officials overreact. That's not the nature of those sports.
Still, there's something refreshing about seeing the greatest players in the world put the sport ahead of themselves.
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