I was up early this past Sunday morning. After reading for a while and enjoying my coffee in the early morning quiet, I went downstairs to check on the Australian Open men’s final. It was 6:45 a.m.
Novak Djokovic was playing Rafael Nadal and I figured I could catch the end of it before waking my family and making my not-very-famous but seriously reality-altering, life-changing, and spirit-elevating chocolate chip waffles. They’re that good.
The match ended up being the longest final in the modern era. It ended nearly three hours after I turned it on. It was some of the most compelling tennis I’ve ever seen. I woke my boys up with my increasingly loud shouts of astonished acclamation—watching sports in my home is loud and totally interactive.
It reminded me of the 2008 Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Nadal, which Sarah and I watched on a warm summer evening in a café in Paris.
A few things struck me about the Aussie final and its aftermath. I loved Djokovic’s outrageously wonderful and thoroughly appropriate celebration. He embraced Nadal and then just let loose with emotion-fueled joy.
Such exultant rejoicing seems completely appropriate and stands in contrast to other reactions to victory. I noticed a few players speaking of “relief” after winning their matches. I wonder if that indicates something corrupted about their motivation for playing. Are there pressures or expectations they are trying to meet through their performance?
Such motivations prevent us from receiving sport and games as God’s good gifts and enjoying them whether we win or lose.
I also thought that both Nadal’s and Djokovic’s reactions were indicative of true sportsmanship. They embraced after the match and spoke very kindly about one another, giving each other honor and respect.
Nadal’s words were especially striking. He was disappointed to have lost, but appreciated having been part of a wonderfully dramatic contest:
I think we played a great tennis match. I enjoyed being part of this event and this match. I am not happy to lose the final, yes, but that’s one of the losses that I am more happy (about) in my career.
That’s such a wonderful perspective on things.