Long before Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal instilled their sport with grace and humility, tennis used to be the sport of bad guys. Remember the terrible tempers and on-court tantrums of John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Ilie Nastase?
It used to be captivating, watching their meltdowns. And it often got embarrassing, especially if you were trying to teach children or young athletes the importance of sportsmanship. The good guys didn’t always win.
During the Australian Open, Federer and Nadal showed again that you can be a good person and a superb athlete at the same time. Recovering from injuries that had forced them to the sidelines in the last year, Nadal was seeded ninth; Federer 17th. Yet they survived 5-set matches in the men’s semifinals and played another riveting 5-setter in the final, which Federer won to claim his 18th Grand Slam title.
As great as their matches were, their behavior before, during and afterwards was – and always is – nothing but exemplary.