I need to write about sports. There are a few very unrelated things that have been weighing on my mind:
#1: Rafael Nadal.
Rafael Nadal is one of the greatest tennis players to ever play the game. He is a competitor. I think that’s why I like him so much. He plays every point like it is match point.
I’m not writing this to say that Nadal is the greatest tennis player ever. In fact, if you twisted my arm, I would probably have to say it is Federer—notwithstanding Nadal’s overwhelming dominance in head-to-head matches (14-7 overall; 5-2 in slam finals). I’m writing this to say that the year Nadal is having is the best year that any player has ever had. You’re probably screaming at the computer screen right now saying, “What about Rod Laver in 1969!” Sure, Laver is the only man to have won all 4 majors in the same calendar year, but he was a grass guy and back in ’69, three of the four majors were played on grass.
Nadal won three of the four majors this year: the French Open on clay, Wimbledon on grass, and the US Open on hard courts. That has never been done. That speaks volumes about both his ability and his work ethic. Just two years ago he was seen as nothing more than a clay court specialist who could never win on hard courts. He was a defensive worker who couldn’t cope with the pace on hard courts. He had a very below average serve and usually just spun it in. Now how’s he doing? He has one of the strongest serves on tour, he’s the favorite in any tournament regardless of the surface, he won three majors this year, and he just stormed through the hard courts of the US Open dropping only one set the entire tournament. With that win at the US Open, Nadal became just the seventh man to win all four majors…and he’s only 24 years old.
Another reason why I like Nadal is because of his humility in all of his interviews. Nadal always deflects the praise, focuses on the task at hand, compliments his opponents, and is very polite to everybody around him. I’m a Nadal fan.
#2: Derek Jeter.
One of my roommates is a huge Yankees fan (he does have redeeming qualities though). I watched a couple innings of their game last week (1 of 162) and saw something that really caught my eye. Derek Jeter, a noted “classy” guy in the MLB, was up to bat and there was a pitch high and inside. Instinctively, Jeter flinched back to get out of the way of the ball. In doing so, the ball struck the butt of the handle of bat and then went into foul territory. The correct call is obviously a foul ball. However, Jeter was hunched over in feigned agony pretending that the ball hit him. The ump decided that it did hit Jeter and subsequently awarded him first base. The opposing team was irate and, after the game, Jeter admitted that it should have been a foul ball.
What really grabbed my attention was the praise that Jeter got for his “smart” play, “quick” thinking,” “gamesmanship,” “do-whatever-it-takes attitude,” etc. I think up until recently I would have agreed with the praise. Wally Matthews on ESPN said that those words are starting to simply become code words for bad sportsmanship and the kind of behavior that would not be tolerated in any other line of work. I’m starting to agree. I think baseball would have been better off if Jeter told the ump that the ball didn’t hit him. Basketball would be better if Manu Ginobli & Co didn’t flop every time down the court. Football has things like this too though I don’t find them as egregious (receivers trapping the ball claiming they caught it, players wrestling for a ball after the whistle at the bottom of a pile). Maybe they don’t bother me as much in football because replay rules generally produce the right call. That’s why tennis is the best sport. None of this goes on in tennis. There is no flopping in tennis…except in this clip that Hiller sent me.