Larry Ryan.


In a world of grey, Tim Smyczek’s act of sportsmanship stands out

Take it again. Tim Smyczek’s simple act of sportsmanship in his Australian Open match with Rafa Nadal won’t endure in sporting folklore, says Larry Ryan.

In a world of grey, Tim Smyczek’s act of sportsmanship stands out

It hasn’t the iconic significance of Lutz Long advising Jesse Owens to rethink his long jump run-up, after two fails.

There will hardly be the bronze gong and innings as a media darling that came Paolo Di Canio’s way for sympathetically catching a ball when it was near impossible to score anyway.

This wasn’t a contrived departure from competitive practice you can build a brand around, like Nicklaus conceding the putt to Jacklin.

It mightn’t be much remarked upon at all if Nadal and Novak Djokovic hadn’t praised the little-known American so volubly afterwards.

But this was real as it gets. A long-odds qualifier, world number 112, taking the number three to 5-6 in the fifth. Nadal had been cramping, staggering; dizziness from a mosquito bite added to his long list of complaints.

The Spaniard isn’t over the line yet. A shout from the crowd on his toss and the serve is wild. A long glare. The umpire is unmoved until Smyczek gestures.

Take it again.

Nadal did and two points later he was home. At 27, maybe Smyczek’s best chance of a Slam scalp had gone.

“I just think most situations are very black and white — there’s almost always a right thing to do and a wrong thing to do,” he said afterwards.

Words largely at odds with the prevailing impression of a sporting landscape daubed in 5,000 shades of grey.

Perhaps another streak was painted from this ashen pallette Sunday night in Gillette Stadium, Massachusetts, where NFL officials, during a half-time check, found that 11 of the 12 footballs supplied for the New England Patriots offence had somehow become deflated to a degree that fell outside the rulebook.

This unfortunate coincidence, which must have occurred after the officials checked the pressure a few hours earlier, might just have made the balls easier to grip and catch on a rainy night.

No wrong-doing proven, yet. When pressed on the soft matter afterwards, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was at least as shocked, shocked, as Captain Louis Renault learning of gambling in Casablanca.

Almost as shocked as quarterback Tom Brady, so accustomed to his equipment personnel catering to every delicate whim, but supposedly unable to detect that some Foxborough slacker was handing him dud ball after dud ball.

As they wait for the go-ahead to be officially outraged, some are unofficially aghast at damage to the game’s integrity.

Some say the episode doesn’t matter because the Indianapolis Colts were blown out anyway. Others have laughed it off with whatever is the gridiron version of ‘that’s football, innit.’

But hardly anybody can be surprised that pounds-per-square-inch is an illegally-traded currency in the game of inches.

Just as nobody is surprised any more to hear of long grass, picked seams, glued gloves, corked bats, stiff rims on the hoop, the outsized bas.

That’s before you even get to the stuff pumped through veins.

As Ryan Wendell admitted after the Patriots used shady substitution plays in defeating Baltimore Ravens, the week before: “Whatever it takes to win.”

Or, as Dónal Óg Cusack put it after a dodgy sliotar with ‘Tipp’ marked on it rolled enticingly in front of Eoin Kelly as he stepped up to a penalty at Páirc Uí Chaoimh: “We’d always be for pushing the edge with stuff like that… any advantage.”

They are agitated around Boston, all the same.

Belichick’s legacy is already tainted by the ‘Spygate’ scandal of 2007, when the Patriots were found guilty of illegally taping opposing teams’ signals, described then by the NFL as “a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid longstanding rules designed to encourage fair play”.

Ahead of the Super Bowl, renowned Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan is starting to worry about what people think.

“The rest of the world will hope they lose 70-0. That’s what he’s done to the image of the New England Patriots.”

But incidents like these have another impact too. The world number 112 has brought Nadal to a fifth. A chance of a career breakthrough is still alive. At a crucial moment he gets a lucky break.

Is it black and white? Take it again.

In a world shaded in grey, your first instinct is to ask: Does he want it enough?

Brashness, insecurity and plain nonsense

If you were to chart some kind of sportsmanship scale from the week’s carry-on, you might end up with a range extending from Tim Smyczek, at one pole, to that beautiful spectacle at the start of proceedings in Boston last Sunday night: Conor McGregor with his middle finger extended into Dennis Siver’s face.

It all contributes to the bottom line in the game where there may only be shades of black. The American punters turned on in decent numbers and as we heard long and loud this week, McGregor ‘got paid’.

It is a curious blend of brashness and insecurity that requires UFC to sell itself this cheaply and it demeans a clearly bright, driven, talented athlete that he must involve himself in it so enthusiastically.

At the finish, there was more of the nonsense; as McGregor leapt urgently from the cage, not, as first appeared, to race for the jacks, but to confront his next opponent Jose Aldo in another bout of hold-me-back trash talk.

To get a true picture of how ridiculous it all is; you need to imagine Jimmy Magee in commentary.

Francie makes his second chance count

Tim Smyczek hardly made it to The Etihad on Sunday. To appreciate how an athlete’s entire career might pivot around him slipping through a brief window of opportunity, you only had to watch Francis Coquelin’s performance against Manchester City.

Out of contract in the summer, on loan at Charlton recently, having uprooted no trees in another secondment to Germany; Coquelin was set to drift into lower-paid journeyman life.

Injuries gave him another go, then a couple of solid outings put him in the shop window. Against City, he produced 90 minutes he’ll live off handsomely for three or four years, wherever he winds up. Last Sunday, Francie got paid too.

Stairway to Heaven

WPBSA: At last some 2020 sporting vision — the big push is on to have snooker in the Tokyo Olympics.

The Seahawks: Even Coach Taylor over in Dillon would have been proud of that escape.

Hell in a Handcart

Channel 7: Home and Away has gone to the dogs and now they are asking the stars of women’s tennis to “give us a twirl”.

David Warner: Standards appear to have slipped in the Aussie national sport of sledging too. Seems telling Indians to “speak English” is where we are at now.

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