Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ljubicic: The Man Has Heart

Greetings tennis nuts,

In a day and age where it is becoming too easy to identify just what precisely is wrong with the world, where mass murders, drug cheats, and sex scandals litter the front pages of the globe's finest newspapers, where paparazzi expose the ugliest truths and the sordid character flaws of today's heroes, where the theme is not to compete on equal footing, but to cheat, lie, and do whatever else it takes to win, to get ahead, to profit, Ivan Ljubicic has shown the world that there is another way to conduct oneself.

It will probably be lost on many who watched the 6'4" Croatians match (a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 loss) with Frenchman Gilles Simon in the Paris Masters today, and by some it will not only be lost but ridiculed and considered an inexplicable lack of finishing ability.

But there was a moment there, where the world, in spite of all it's harsh realities and materialistic misgivings, was right again. It happened at 3-3 in the third and final set, just after Simon had blew a break point and in the process reinjured his always temperamental tendinitis afflicted right knee.

As Simon limped towards the chair umpire Carlos Bernardes, he was met with one of the harsh realities of life on the ATP tour. Bernardes told him "If you are injured, you finish the game, then you talk to the trainer." Simon, nonplussed, and more concerned with his money-making knees, abruptly told Bernardes that he would either see the trainer or retire.

That was, just at the moment when yet another tennis crowd was going to be told to go home early a-la Serena sending thousands of New Yorkers home in September, when help came from the most unlikely of places: Simon's opponent.

Ivan Ljubicic. Taking a page from the books of old, when men were men and they respected the competition more than the money, more than winning or losing; from a time when respect was a common theme rather than a term that gets hurled around in the same fashion that most obscenities are today.

13,700 euros and a trip to the third round could have been Ljubicic's if he'd only just stood at the baseline and played dumb. If he sat there like a 20th century greed monger, preparing to serve, knowing full-well that Simon was not going to play those two points until he had sought the attention of a trainer.

But he didn't. He told Simon he was fine with letting him get looked at, and Bernardes deferred to Ljubicic's sentiment, and the trainer came to assess the damage to Simon's knee at deuce, 3-3.

Some of you will call Ljubicic stupid for extending his respect and compassion to another man. 'Why would anyone do that?' You'll say. 'You have to kick a man when he's down. Grind him to a pulp. Take the money and run.' But Ljubicic must have other ideas about how people should behave towards one another, even if they are adversaries. Perhaps he has parents who took the time to teach him not only about tennis but about life. About doing what is right.

In a world, and in a sport, where we read about too much of what is wrong (think crystal meth, parents gone wild, and Fernando Gonzalez Olympic debacle), Ljubicic, win or lose, showed us today that all is not wrong in the world.

Thousands of Parisians got their money's worth, Simon got his chance to finish the match, and most of all, Ljubicic showed that he, win or lose, has a champions character.  

As he walked off the court and was hardly acknowledged by the Parisian crowd, I couldn't help but think that he deserved a standing ovation and a few roses thrown at his feet.  

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