I want to apologize to all Nadal fans for an inadequate response to his French Open victory. With a hasty and passing reference to his win, I damned him with faint praise and was thinking later how utterly inadequate my post was, regarding him. Why couldn’t I do him justice?
Nadal really is as incredible as everyone says. He’s fast, relentless and focused, and he’s very strong, and he digs in against a punishing opponent with grit and tenacity. He’s also extremely likable. He’s an entirely deserving champion.
The reason I gave him less than his due is that I’ve been rushing to write these posts in little available time – that’s one thing – but another issue is the murky journalistic zone that is blogging. In that realm of raging subjectivity, how responsible do you need to be to a larger truth? I.e. the more objective truth, like acknowledging a supreme practitioner of the sport you write about? Is it really clear?
What weak defenses! I remind myself of David Nalbandian. He let loose on a tiny, flimsy piece of plywood that was barely covering the ankles of a linesman – to say he “kicked the box” is misleading, since it wasn’t a box. It was a bit of decorative advertising bunting. It immediately splintered and part of it gouged the shin of the poor linesman.
It was a crackpot thing to do. Nalbandian temporarily lost it – kicking part of the furniture is one thing, but he had to have noticed how close the man was sitting to the wafer-thin bit of plywood. As in, right behind it, not inches from the board – it was nearly as if the board weren’t there.
Afterward, confused and undoubtedly contrite, Nalbandian defended himself in his post-match interview, saying the ATP puts pressure on players to play despite the conditions, and making other complaints, seeming to try to explain, and maybe even justify, his inexcusable action.
It’s so hard to drop the urge to defend yourself. “I didn’t do the right thing but these are the reasons I didn’t!” you want to shrill after you fail or blunder. “Even if I didn’t do the right thing it doesn’t mean I never do!” you also want to shrill. “So what if I did the wrong thing? Does it mean I want to hear endless criticism?” you then shrill, getting absolutely no traction from the argument, sinking in fact deeper into moral quicksand.
Why is it so hard to say, “I was wrong. I’m sorry”? Well, I can tell you that right now – it’s not hard to say you’re sorry, but it’s very hard to say you were wrong. It’s killingly hard. Why, though? We seem to twist ourselves into parabolas to avoid feeling any sense of wrongdoing, even though we’d all intellectually admit no one is perfect, no one can always behave admirably. We still can hardly ever bear to admit we didn’t behave admirably.
I like to think if I’d been in Nalbandian’s shoes, I would have immediately seen the consequences of my moment of temper and offered a full apology. I like to think the sight of blood – rather a lot of blood – would have instantly and unequivocally convinced me I had blundered into absolute wrongness, and had no recourse but to say so and apologize. But who knows? I might have felt the same instinct Nalbandian did to explain, to rationalize. “I shouldn’t have done it but the reason I did was that I’ve been very tired, very tense, I haven’t been feeling myself, can’t you see how it’s been for me?” That’s what’s so hard to give up the urge to explain – how it is from your side. If people knew that, wouldn’t they see it was practically an act of restraint to only destroy a bit of advertising bunting? Wouldn’t they have been like “Oh my god, how have you even been able to carry on?”
I feel for the players, in other words, who lose their temper and don’t cope well with adversity. I even feel for their rage when they come up against the indisputable fact of their wrongness. I feel for it so deeply I
feel like I have blood on my own tennis shoe. But I don’t. Sorry, David.