In a fantastic Wimbledon quarter-final on Wednesday evening, Rafael Nadal and Juan Martín del Potro, the most fair play tennismen, displayed the kind of sportsmanship and class only the two of them are capable of. It was a match that either one of them could have won (and deserved to win). It may sound like a cliché, but it is the truth. In a five-set and almost 5-hour game, only a few points made the difference in the end. Yes, that’s sometimes all it takes to win a tennis match, and Nadal was the better player in the end, but they both gave their everything. Playing each other, Nadal and del Potro were forced to be the best of themselves.
I am a Rafa Nadal fan through and through and I have talked about him before, of all the reasons I admire him for, besides his hard-work, resilience, determination and achievements on the tennis court. Juan Martín del Potro is another great tennis player who has the stuff that only true champions are made of. Dedication, fair play, modesty and down-to-earthness. If I have to choose my number two tennis player in the world right now, he is the one. At last year’s Roland Garros, when Nicolás Almagro had to retire early in the first set of his second round match against del Potro and simply broke down on court in despair (I can not say the same thing about Serena Williams who retired out of the blue before her confrontation with Sharapova earlier this year at the French Open), DelPo displayed incredible sportsmanship, compassion and concern for Almagro. He has been there, he knows the agony of defeat because of injury, which probably deprived him of being multiple grand slam champion.
During his match against Nadal at Wimbledon, when Rafa slipped on grass a couple of times in the final set and fell on the back, del Potro came to the net and made sure his opponent was okay. Then, when the match ended, Juan Martín fell shattered on the ground – “I wanted to stay there all night long,” he later said. Nadal jumped over the fence, went to the baseline and embraced him in a moving touch of sportsmanship. “This photo says it all”, del Potro later wrote on his Instagram of that capture of the two of them.
As much as I love the game and its grandness, it is humbling moments like these that remain the most unforgettable. Two special men, two great champions. Humans first, tennis players second.