Wednesday, January 26, 2022

How Symczek’s Sportsmanship Raised the Bar



Doug Browne

Tim Smyczek’s (pronounced Smeecheck) recent gesture at this year’s Australian Open (Grand Slam) not only earned the respect of his top-ranked opponent but also of the entire tennis world.

Leading 6-5 in the fifth and deciding set and the score 30 love, Rafael Nadal was serving when a disrespectful fan screamed just as he was hitting his first serve. Nadal badly missed the shot. Within seconds, Milwaukeean Smyczek told the umpire that Nadal should get another serve. Nadal appreciated this act of kindness and set up to serve again with two serves coming.

To put it into the proper context, Smyczek was four points away from the biggest victory of his career and would have had the opportunity to earn considerably more money in the event. If 28-year-old Smyczek had pulled off this incredible upset, it’s likely that his career would be greatly altered and with more notoriety and a significant infusion of sponsorship money.

Not surprisingly, Smyczek lost the match, but what he did win was Nadal’s respect. “What he did at the end of the fifth is just amazing,” Nadal said afterward. “Very few players can do that after four hours-something of a match, at 6-5, love-30. So, I just will say thanks to him because he’s a great example with what he did today.”

The third-ranked player continued to praise his opponent. “He’s a gentleman, what he did in the last game…So I congratulate him for that and because he played a great match.”

In this world where we are inundated with negative stories, including “Spygate” and “Deflate gate,” it is refreshing to focus on a man’s outstanding kindness and warmth during the heat of battle.

“Smee was World Class the whole match.” (Fan)

When I first heard it was indeed Smyczek, my fellow Milwaukeean and Packer fan, it didn’t surprise me. When I was growing up in Milwaukee, our coaches constantly stressed the importance of being well behaved on the tennis court. Furthermore, with Wisconsin’s conservative landscape, it was frowned upon to call attention to yourself. So, the phrase “winning at all costs,” didn’t pertain to the sport of tennis in the beautiful Midwest.

Now, it is my hope and dream that Smyczek’s sportsmanship will filter down to all levels of tennis and result in a profound effect on future competitions.

“Smee is one of my favorite players and his good sportsmanship and general regard for others is a big reason. He’s the only pro I have ever seen that actually thanks the ball kids when they bring him a towel. Most just toss the towel back and don’t say a word.” (Fan)

Remember, the collegiate game made a huge rule change, no more “lets” — because the combatants struggled with their honesty. To rehash, a player would hit a booming cannonball serve for an ace only to hear the foe yelling let.

Even though it is legal to “stack” in USTA league play, it would be a great improvement if all future matches would be played “straight up.” In other words, the No. 1 team would actually play the opponent’s No. 1 and have it filter down to the nos. 2 and 3 doubles teams. The way the rule is presently constituted it is okay to place your worst team against the best. This is a tricky loophole that must change.

“Great Sportsmanship and we should all learn from Smyczek’s example.” (Sunlady)

There is a fine group of concerned tennis professionals and parents that are urging an end to cheating in junior tennis. Their hope is to have the tennis officials intervene and have blatant cheating outlawed.

I couldn’t agree with this group more. This dubious behavior is a significant blemish on this great game. Imagine the impact: Youngsters competing in the 10’s or 12’s may be greatly discouraged — and disillusioned — by rampant cheating. Many of the best and brightest may ultimately quit the sport. We must not be afraid to empower our on-court officials so they can flush out the “cheaters.”

“I play tennis with people who make the worst calls possible, so I appreciate the honesty and integrity of this man.” (fit4ufor3rd)

We must also be fearless — as was Smyczek — in making character as crucial to the game of tennis as victory.


Since 2000, Doug Browne was the Collier County Pro of the Year three times, and has been a USPTA pro in the area for 28 years. Doug was also honored in the International Hall of Fame (Newport, Rhode Island) as Tennis Director during the 2010 summer season. Doug has been writing about tennis for the last 19 years.

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