Rafael Nadal did away with tradition in a remarkable act of sportsmanship after his shock loss in the Australian Open quarter-finals.
As we’ve seen him do a number of times throughout his career, Nadal didn’t wait for Dominic Thiem to meet him at the net after the final point, instead walking over to his opponent’s side of the court before embracing him.
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It was only a small gesture but one we don’t often see from many other players.
The World No.1 then continued the classy display in his post-match press conference, heaping praise on his opponent rather than wallowing in defeat.
“(It was) a very good match. Good level of tennis, I think,” Nadal told reporters.
“He have been playing very well, I think, no? Playing very aggressive, great shots. Even from difficult positions, he was able to produce amazing shots.
“So nothing to say. Just well done to him.
“I think he’s playing great. He’s playing with a lot of energy, aggressive, determination. So well done for him.
“I honestly didn’t play a bad match, no, no. My attitude was great, I think, during the whole match. Good, positive, fighting spirit all the time, giving me more chances. That’s what I tried, no?”
Wow! This is what great sportsmanship looks like. Look at Nadal being fair to an opponent who played a better tennis! Thank you and congrats to both of you guys! Love this game 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾 https://t.co/dMFzCFivXM— Un Expat Afro (@AlihNu) January 29, 2020
Super gracious post-match interview from #Nadal, who in my opinion has been the best example of sportsmanship on the ATP tour since he joined it - both on and off the court. #Federer rarely, if ever, has credited an opponent like this: https://t.co/AIJD8vdMiy— Andrew Prochnow (@AndrewProchnow) January 29, 2020
Thiem gets revenge on Nadal
Thiem avenged back-to-back French Open final losses to Nadal, shocking the world No.1 to reach the last four at the Australian Open for the first time.
The Austrian fifth seed gave Nadal a taste of his own medicine at Melbourne Park, out-grinding the Spaniard 7-6 (7-3) 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 7-6 (8-6) in a dogfight that lasted more than four hours.
On the wrong end of a 4-9 career record, Thiem had never beaten Nadal in a grand slam after finishing runner-up to him in the past two Roland Garros deciders.
Thiem's thrilling five-set loss to the 19-time major champion at the 2018 US Open was still fresh in his mind as he basked in Wednesday night's breakthrough victory over Nadal.
Except this time he felt the rub of the green went his way.
"We already had this epic match in New York two years ago," Thiem said.
"Today, I had really good feeling I was lucky in the right situation. (The) net court was really on my side.
"It's necessary because he's obviously one of the greatest of all-time. You need some luck to beat him."
But lady luck could only carry him so far, with Thiem stumbling as he battled mentally to put Nadal away while serving for the match at 5-4 in the fourth set.
"It's a little bit demons in the head," he said.
"Like Roger (Federer) said, it's true. Everybody has it. I was rushing way too much.
"Of course it's very tough to handle if you are up 5-4 against Rafa."
With the temperature gauge still reading 31C on Rod Laver Arena when the first ball was struck, it was always going to be a war of attrition.
After losing a gruelling opening set, Nadal was incensed when chair umpire slapped him with a time violation while serving at 3-4 after a lengthy point.
"It is really amazing after this point that you put the chrono straight. It is really amazing," he fumed at umpire Aurelie Tourte.
"You don't like the good tennis. You don't like the good tennis."
Although Thiem later said he was sympathetic of Nadal's cause after such an energy-sapping point, the Spanish great wasn't keen to talk about the incident.
"No view. That's a time violation, that's all," Nadal curtly told reporters.