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Men don't cry, but when Roger Federer does....

I WASN'T much of a Roger Federer fan. Well, that was until the Australian Open tennis final three days ago. Until AFTER the final, to be exact. In fact, as an admirer of Pete Sampras, whose astonishing record of 14 Grand Slam titles is in danger of being broken by the Swiss player, I was quietly hoping Rafael Nadal would put Federer to the sword on Sunday, which is what happened.



When Federer's last shot sailed long to give Nadal the elusive Australian Open title, I was satisfied. But I had no idea what was to follow. I had no idea, most of all, that tears could also be a man's most powerful weapon.

Don't get me wrong. I liked Barack Obama's presidential inauguration spectacular, and I thought his speech was inspirational and simply great. But boy, maybe only Roger Federer can sweep you off your feet with just a couple of sentences and a couple of teardrops.

The tennis showdown was up there with the best sporting encounters in history. But to me, the real "moment" of the Australian Open final came after the match was over. And it wasn't even when Federer tried unsuccessfully to fight back tears. The guy is well known for crying easily and his fans are no strangers to his outbreaks of emotion. This time it was rather different, though. His were not tears of joy because he was on the losing end of a major final he wanted so much to win. He approached the microphone during the trophy presentation ceremony trying very hard not to cry. He even said a few words to loosen himself up and distract his own heavy heart. When someone in the audience shouted, "We love you!", his efforts at self-control were in vain.

Speechless and choked with emotion, there was no way in the world Federer could utter a word to the crowd without crumbling like a heartbroken schoolgirl on her best friend's shoulder. The organisers decided to let him retreat and have Nadal, the winner, address the spectators first. (For a few seconds I had this scary feeling that Nadal, who was looking emotional himself, might be infected and break down, too. That would have turned a beautiful, touching moment into something a bit ridiculous. I mean, two heartthrob athletes crying at the end of a Grand Slam final? That would be one man too many.)

But Federer, who started it, rescued it. And he did so graciously. As the organisers were looking rather awkward and unsure after handing Nadal the trophy, Federer stepped up toward the microphone. "Let me try again," he said. "I don't want to have the last word; this guy deserves it."

With that, he had me. What can I say? We have all been in situations where everyone wants to have the last word and opponents are there to be humbled, not respected. Federer showed us the soft side of a man and his sense of sportsmanship and fair play at the same time. It's easy to praise your rivals when you are on the winning side; handling a devastating defeat in such a manner is different.

The five-set Australian Open final took our breath away. Federer was absolute tennis poetry in motion, and Nadal's extension of his mastery of clay to other surfaces continues to amaze the world. It was the kind of game you didn't really want either man to lose; a classic clash of different skills that were equally superb; a demonstration of unbelievable composure and stamina; and a great example of what healthy and constructive rivalry can give us.

Without Federer, Nadal would not be where he is, and vice versa. That must have been the thought on Federer's mind when he decided that, despite the trophy and fan's deafening roars of approval, Nadal's deserved honour would not have been complete without the most important element - true respect from his fiercest rival.

Like someone said, the two players are becoming the best things in tennis since the racket itself. That's surely arguable, but we can't take anything away from the touching and inspiring drama that happened after the game. For more than four hours, the two men played like battling angels unleashing balls of fire against each other, nothing on their minds except victory at the other's expense. But in the end the rivals became a pair, and glided down to earth to show us the good side of human beings.



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