AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Tennis has Smyczek’s Moment of Sportsmanship, NFL has Deflategate. Which One Do We Really Respect?

Tim Smyczek

Four hours into the fight Wednesday, Tim Smyczek, Packers fan from Milwaukee, was sticking with Rafael Nadal, greatest player of all time, at the Australian Open. It was one of those moments when you reach heights that. . .”He was sick and not playing well,” Smyczek said, trying to ruin the story.

Whatever. Nadal led 6-5, 30-love, fifth set. He tossed to serve and someone in the crowd screamed. It distracted him and he missed wildly. And then what? Here’s what: Smyczek secretly took the ball, stuffed it in his pocket, reached down and popped a hole in the seam with his fingernail. The ball turned to mush, which meant that it wouldn’t bounce much, negating Nadal’s wicked topspin.

Smygate! The American way! No wait. That’s not what happened. Smyczek didn’t Belichick the ball at all. What really happened was this: He told the chair umpire to let Nadal hit his first serve again. A do-over was not required under the rules. Nadal then served again and won the point. A few minutes later, Nadal won 6-2, 3-6, 6-7 (7-2), 6-3, 7-5.

Sportmanship lives. Smyczek did it at risk to his career moment. It was the right thing, wasn’t it? Because it stands in such stark contrast to the big story in sports today: the New England Patriots deflating 11 of the 12 footballs used in the AFC title game, theoretically to fit better into the small hands of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

“What he did at the end of the fifth was just amazing,” Nadal said afterward, talking about Smyczek, not New England coach Bill Belichick. “Very few players can do that after four hours. . .He’s a great example, what he did today.”

This is about who we are and whether what we respect and believe in

are the things we say we respect and believe in. No one has been able yet to pin down that Belichick had anything to do with the footballs being deflated. At the same time, everyone assumes he did and wonders what other sneaky, cheating moves Spygate Bill has committed. Already, CBSSports.com is citing unnamed Baltimore Ravens players as saying the Patriots deflated footballs against them, too. Bill Belichick

Belichick is now in the Super Bowl again, this time against Seattle, whose coach, Pete Carroll, left college for the pros after he was caught cheating as USC’s coach.

If they had a Mount Rushmore of coaches, Belichick would be up there, probably looking over the shoulder suspiciously of the stone carving of Vince Lombardi.

Smyczek is a journeyman pro, ranked No. 112. He’s 27 years old and will never win a major or even come close. He has won three Challenger-level events, which is roughly the top minor league.

Results matter, of course. And you can’t expect a fringe touring tennis pro to be held in the same light as a guy who has won several Super Bowls.

The question is which side of this story we really do respect. We caĺl for sportsmanship, but at the same time, I did teach my son how to throw an elbow to the ribs under the basket in hoops without the officials seeing it.

Yes, it takes fair play to be a winner, but it also takes an edge. A ruthlessness. And much like fans look at the academics of their favorite college football teams, it is only an afterthought. Win first. Graduate later, if you like.

But you teach sportsmanship, too. Don’t cheat, but throw an elbow to let them know you’re there. It’s not an easy balance, maybe even a sliding scale. Never call an opponent’s ball out when it’s in, but drill your opponent in the chest when he’s at the net if you can.

I suspect that as a society, we complain when we see bad sportsmanship but deep down respect where that’s coming from.

ESPN analyst Darren Cahill pointed out the other day that Maria Sharapova’s grunt, as a match goes on, starts to last longer and longer all the way until her opponent is hitting the ball. Much like the fan who yelled while Nadal served, Sharapova is yelling while her opponent is hitting.

I have not seen her apologize for distracting her opponent or saying to play the point over. Some people complain about her grunting, but more people are paying Sharapova, who makes millions on the court for her ruthlessness and guts.

“I thought it was the right thing to do,” Smyczek said.

It was the nice thing, anyway.

About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at FoxSports.com and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

3 responses to “AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Tennis has Smyczek’s Moment of Sportsmanship, NFL has Deflategate. Which One Do We Really Respect?

  • roGER

    “…but more people are paying Sharapova, who makes millions on the court for her tits and ass.”

    There you go Greg, fixed that sentence for you.

  • Finny Finchenzo

    the minor league analogy not so good, which is surprising since you’re a tennis writer and addict…he just went 5 sets with the world’s best..in any given week, look at the main draw of a challenger. Not always, but often times you’ll see top 50 players…can the same be said for minor league baseball, basketball or hockey? No way! The top 1000 players are in the bigs in any sport (except tennis unless they qualify). A better baseball analogy would have been the WORLD’S 70th (TS’s highest ranking which was just last year) best baseball player (and they are ranked), who last season was Tori Hunter. Tim Smyczek is the Tori Hunter of tennis….not so bad!

    • gregcouch

      Good point. However, the 70th best baseball player has to go against the top 69 all the time. The Challenger players aren’t going to face Nadal or Djokovic.It’s similar with golf. There are really good players not on the big tour. I don’t know, I’ll think about it

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