As a youngster, Tim Smyczek let his passion for tennis flow, sometimes a little too freely, for which he paid the price.
“From a very young age, my parents made sure I didn’t lose sight of what is important,” he said. “I was yanked off the court more than once for behaving badly.”
But on his sport’s biggest stage, Tim showed his parents that he had learned the lesson and in the process set an example of class for an international audience.
Tim was ranked No. 112 in the world when he stepped on the court to face Rafael Nadal in the second round of this year’s Australian Open. He gave the former world No. 1 all he could handle, striking 64 winners in a five-set match that lasted more than four hours. Nadal led 6-5 in the fifth and was serving at 30-0, when a fan in the crowd called out just as he was about to serve. The serve sailed long, but Tim asked for the point to be replayed instead.
Nadal won the replayed point. Tim saved three match points before falling 6-2, 3-6, 6-7, 6-3, 7-5.
“I want to congratulate Tim — he’s a real gentleman for what he did in that last game. Not a lot of people will do this at 6-5 in the fifth,” Nadal said in a post-match interview. “He’s a great example, what he did today.”
Tim shrugged off the question about his motivation with the response of many Musial honorees — it was just the right thing to do — and was somewhat taken aback that his actions were a big deal.
“That people would challenge the assertion that ‘it was just the right thing to do’ I think is a reflection of the win-at-all-costs mentality that prevails in sports these days,” Tim said. “You see the various scandals in the news, whether it’s PED’s or stealing signals, and it’s a shame because it’s the new normal.”
Currently ranked No. 98, Tim’s career trajectory has remained the same, though he’s a bit more in demand for interviews because of his act of sportsmanship in Australia.
“I’m a bit surprised the story hasn’t gone away, but I hope maybe it can just be an example for a young athlete somewhere,” he said. “Tennis has been very lucky for years now to have some of the classiest athletes in the world in Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal at the top of our sport, and hopefully kids are really emulating the things they do.”