Compassion on the Court

Compassion on the Court
June 1, 2017
There was a moment this morning at the French Open (otherwise known as Roland Garros) that had tears pouring down my face. It was a moment in which tennis, competition, winning, losing, the seeding chart… all of that faded away and failed to matter. In this moment, one man’s heart appeared to be breaking, and the other man offered unparalleled compassion (which is understandable considering that he had been through injuries himself many times before).
Both Juan Martin Del Potro and Nicolas Alamagro were dealing with some discomfort and injuries cropping up in their second-round match today, but then things took a sudden turn. Juan Martin served, but Nicolas found himself unable to move to strike the ball. He then broke down in tears of apparent frustration. I won’t presume to know what was coursing through his mind, but I know playing in the Grand Slams is huge for any tennis player. Having to retire from a match is never easy, I would imagine, especially after pouring so much time and effort into training and fighting for each round of every tournament one competes in.


Nicolas Almagro (left) and Juan Martin Del Potro (right)




Things took another surprising turn immediately as Juan Martin came over and offered comfort to his opponent. He asked the chair referee to bring over a bottle of water, which he uncapped and handed to Nicolas as they were walking back to the chairs. Once Nicolas sat down, Juan Martin could have returned to his own seat and packed up his bag. He could have waved to the crowd because he had won the match. But he didn’t do either. Instead, he sat down beside Nicolas and comforted him some more. One of the commentators later said Juan Martin had been telling Nicolas to try to calm down and to think of his family and his baby. Juan Martin had been through injuries before, and I have to believe that his own experience came into play here. I have to also believe that he knew—and was encouraging Nicolas to recall—that family is more important than tennis, even though the sport is both men’s livelihood and passion. Perhaps another thread that made this moment even more special is that the two men had grown up through the Juniors together and have been friends for years. But I think Juan Martin would have behaved the same way toward any opponent in as much distress as Nicolas was today.
Juan Martin continued to show compassion in additional ways as well. He asked for a second bottle of water, uncapped it, and handed it to Nicolas, making sure the young man stayed hydrated even as he was going through a lot of emotional pain in those minutes. Juan Martin also packed up Nicolas’s bag for him before handing it to the trainer, who offered to carry it (otherwise, I believe Juan Martin might have carried it to the locker room for Nicolas).


The after-match “handshake” was a display of
compassion and appreciation.


Only after Nicolas had left the court with the trainer did Juan Martin Del Potro take care of his own belongings. Such selflessness is rare in sports these days. In fact, it’s pretty rare in most places, even outside of sports. This incident was a beautiful and unique example of a selfless, generous heart, and I won’t soon forget it. I hope to emulate such selflessness if I ever find myself in a similar position, in which I could offer someone else attention and comfort before taking care of my own to-do list.
Sometimes life transcends sports. Sometimes tragedies and other difficult moments can inspire the sweetest moments one will ever experience. Through it all, the extraordinary capacity of compassion of the heart shines so brightly. It never fails to impress me when God pours His love out through humans. He always knows just the right way to bring comfort to us when we need it most, and He very often uses fellow humans with which to do it. It gives me the best sort of chills just thinking about it.
I wish both Nicolas Almagro and Juan Martin Del Potro swift recoveries from their respective injuries. And I thank them both. They reminded me—and many others, I’m sure—that faith in God, family, compassion, and comfort should come first in every situation.
Nicolas and Juan Martin, thank you both for your beautiful hearts and allowing them to shine brightly for the world to see on June 1. It is plain to see how passionate you both are, not only of the sport you love and play well, but also the human condition and family and friendship and compassion. I pray you both recover well and swiftly, and I look forward to watching you both play again soon. God bless you and your families!
The two YouTube videos that show the incident and incredible compassion in the Nicolas Almagro/Juan Martin Del Potro match from Roland Garros on June 1, 2017, have been disabled by the owners, at least from being shared on other websites, such as my blog. One of them has a link to watch it on YouTube. I have left that one here and removed the other one.
The very next day, June 2, there was another sign of compassion and good sportsmanship at the French Open. When David Goffin had to retire from his third-round match due to injury, his opponent, Horacio Zeballos, packed up David’s two bags and carried them (along with his own) and set them next to the door behind which David was receiving treatment. It’s so wonderful to see the best side of humanity when difficult things crop up. I’m so grateful that chivalry and sportsmanship and compassion are still alive and well in the crazy world we live in today.
David Goffin immediately after incident.
Horacio Zeballos carried Goffin’s bags (the red Wilson bag
and the small black bag in the chair behind his elbow) and
his own (the one he’s packing up in this picture) when his
opponent could not retrieve his own bags.
David, I pray you recover quickly and thoroughly. I look forward to seeing you play tennis again soon. Your style of play is so much fun to watch because you never give up and always fight hard for every point.
Horacio, thank you for being so thoughtful to take care of David’s bags for him when he was unable to do so. That generosity is rare and always appreciated.
All of the sportsmanship on display at Roland Garros this year has reminded me of the events of this article I wrote about Tim Smyczek and Rafael Nadal, two other fantastic tennis players. I would love to hear your thoughts on that one as well.
When have you experienced compassion that transcended the situation?
How have you offered comfort to someone in need?
Do you like watching tennis? Do you have a favorite player?
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