Winning and Losing with Class

Around two weeks ago, I turned on the TV and it was the fifth set of the mens tennis final of Wimbledon. I’m not a fan of tennis but figured it would be interesting to watch.

First, if any of you saw this match, you saw two tremendous competitors (Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer) put on a wonderful exhibition of athleticism, competitiveness, and courage. Even as someone with limited interest in tennis, it was great to watch.

However, this post isn’t about tennis but rather the way each handled the winning and losing.

Roger Federer had won the 5 previous Wimbledon Championships and as the number one ranked player was expected to win this one as well. Rafael Nadal was ranked number two and although he has been dominant on clay, playing on the grass of Wimbledon there was no doubt he was the underdog. Nadal won this match in the fifth set 9-7.

The interesting thing (to me at least) was their reactions after the match. Nadal fell to the ground once the final point was won in celebration (and probably exhaustion) but quickly got to his feet and went to the net to meet Federer who was waiting to congratulate him. So many times, in other sports, you see the winner spend a lot of time celebrating, without regard for the opponent. Also, you see the opponent sit (or lay) dejectedly feeling bad for themselves. I realize tennis is considered to be a “gentelmens’ game” but these two really seemed to care for each other and respect each other as well.

Each player was interviewed after the match and rather than speaking about themselves, they seemed to spend more time complimenting the other (Federer talking about what a great competitor Nadal was and Nadal saying that while he might have won the match, Federer was still the best player). No excuses, no complaints, just compliments.

While it’s traditional for the winner to take a “victory lap” around the court after the match to thank the crowd (and to receive their applause) both players took the lap (in opposite directions). My guess is Federer would have preferred to have been in the locker room at that point but since he did this after winning a tournament, he did it after losing as well.

Both players handled their winning and losing with complete class and character.

Interestingly, the very next day, Nadal had to withdraw from a tournament in Germany due to a knee injury. Rather than calling or emailing or having a representative withdraw for him, he chose to fly to Germany and withdraw in person. How many “champions” take the easy way out rather than doing the right thing? Although his withdrawing was a big loss for the tournament, the tournament director was quoted as saying “He is here today, because he is responsible and has character.”

Whether you win or lose, do people think of you as being a person of character? Are you a gracious winner and a poor loser? Are you an obnoxious winner and a gracious loser?

While I’m still not a big fan of tennis, I can say, after watching the way these two men handled the match, I am a fan of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

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