From the ridiculous to the sublime.
Tennis headlines about Roger Federer's glorious victory in the French Open finals today will be a welcome improvement after the headlines about Fernando Gonzalez's dismal display in the semis on Friday -- Gonzo Takes a Seat on Court at the French Open.
The London Telegraph called Gonzo's wiping the court with his backside "one of the strangest incidents in recent grand slam history." The French Open website called it "an Open Era first." The Associated Press and the Canadian Press called it "a comedic display."
Yes, it was strange, unique and funny (hey, I'm no prude). It was also revealing. As they say in Latin, Ex ungue leonem. By the claw, the lion is revealed (you know, the whole from the part). And from Gonzo's assy antics, we know a whole lot about him.
In case you missed it: Gonzales was serving, down 2 sets to 1 against Soderling, 4-4, 0-15 in the fourth set. Soderling ended the 10-shot rally with a backhand up the line that Gonzo couldn't get to -- and thought was out. No call. Gonzo summoned the chair umpire, Emmanuel Joseph, who summoned the linesman, who confirmed the mark, and Joseph confirmed that the Swede's shot was good. Furious, Gonzo raised both hands in the universal symbol of exasperation. As the crowd whistled and jeered, he studied the mark from several angles, shooting contemptuous looks at the linesman, who stared into the middle distance. Then Gonzo railed at Joseph, "If that's in, I'm Superman. The mark you showed me? That's it? So I'm Superman."
Joseph gave him no satisfaction, so Gonzo walked back to the mark, his left arm akimbo, faced the linesman with an expression that said I'd like to eat your intestines, sat down on the mark, and wiped his rear back and forth. When he stood up again, he had a fiery red-clay mark on his left buttock, giving the term "shot spot" new meaning.
The astonished BBC commentator (I was watching this at our home in Nova Scotia) tried to explain it. "That sort of reaction, it just shows you the pressure he's feeling, that overreaction to that call. He's put everything on the line today, Gonzales, and he's on the edge."
After the match, Gonzalez tried to explain it. "I mean, I'm human. I saw the ball out. I showed it. The line judge comes, but he shows nothing. He showed nothing, and that's what made me crazy."
The linesman may have shown nothing, but Gonzo showed a great deal, in addition to showing his rear. And he showed his true colors, as he did at the 2008 Olympics when he played James Blake for the Bronze medal and wouldn't fess up that a Blake shot grazed his racket before it sailed long.
"We know when it (the ball) touches us," Blake fumed after the match. "Maybe I shouldn't expect people to hold themselves to high standards of sportsmanship. But yes, I did expect it a little more so in the Olympics when we're all competing under the banner of this event being to promote sportsmanship and goodwill among countries."
I expected more of Gonzalez, too, especially after his inspired and inspiring run at the 2007 Australian Open (Federer beat him in the finals 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-4).
Yes, he's human, but his actions at the Olympics and the French Open revealed that he's not a true sportsman. A sportsman is "a person who behaves sportingly," and sporting means "fair and generous in one's behavior"(Oxford University Press Dictionary). Gonzo was hardly fair and generous to Blake, and his behavior at the French Open was openly contemptuous of the linesman, the umpire and this classy sport.
Classy is really the heart of the matter. A true sportsman has class.
Like Federer, who had much more at stake in this year's French Open, and more than once looked hard at a mark, but he didn't stoop to erase it.
Like Gonzo, who did, and revealed how classy he isn't.
I'm not talking manners. I'm talking consciousness here, a higher consciousness of what it really means to be human. Class is that ineffable quality, hard to define, but those who try offer words like integrity, dignity, grace. That's what Federer brings to tennis. Rafa, too. They're both consummate sportsmen. Men of great heart. Lionhearted. That's what makes their rivalry so compelling. Extraordinary. When they clash, it's more than the clash of great players, it's the clash of great spirits. Because they understand that the spirit of this great sport transcends winning.
I don't expect Gonzo to grasp any of this; in fact, as I watched him using his rear as a giant eraser, I thought of that great line from Ava Gardner's great film, The Barefoot Contessa.
A fading ingenue grills Gardner, "What have you got that I haven't?"
A mutual friend bluntly answers, "What she's got you can't spell. And what you've got, you used to have."
Gonzo may wonder what Fed has that he doesn't. After watching Federer win the French Open and Gonzo lose his dignity there -- and his integrity at the Olympics -- I'd have to answer, "What he has, you can't spell. And what you've got, you used to have."
Congratulations, Roger, on your classy and well-deserved victory.