Tennis' bizarre convention of the losing speech
A back injury derailed Rafael Nadal's Australian Open hopes.
January 28th, 2014
12:32 PM ET

Tennis' bizarre convention of the losing speech

By Will Edmonds

Almost five years to the day after reducing then world No. 1 Roger Federer to tears after capturing his first, and to-date only Australian Open, Rafael Nadal shed a few of his own when the Spaniard stood up to give a speech after losing the Australian Open final to Stanislas Wawrinka.

Surely this is one of the strangest conventions in all of sports?

Minutes after falling agonizingly short of achieving a goal they have dedicated their lives to, tennis players are expected to show sportsmanship, humility, composure, gratitude and perspective, often in a second or third language, in front of a crowd of thousands and a television audience of millions.

You would never expect the losing team's captain in the Champions League final to take the stand and address the crowd and you might place yourself in serious danger if you tried to force a microphone into the hand of a man who hasjust lost a heavyweight boxing bout.

Is tennis just more sophisticated; more traditional; more civilized?

Who knows, but what is clear is these tearful toasts are often being remembered long after the results have been wiped from the public’s memory.

Aside from having to congratulate the victor, thank the tournament organizers, the sponsors, umpires, ball boys and of course, the fans, tennis players are increasingly using this platform to express emotion and connect with their fans.

Back in the 1980s American John McEnroe broke protocol by walking off the court to a cacophony of boos during Ivan Lendl's victory speech at the French Open.

Four years later on the same court, Frenchman Henri Leconte was similarly booed when he tried to break down the technicalities of why he lost to Sweden's Mats Wilander in the final.

These days, tears are standard protocol, and never more so than in the aforementioned 2009 Australian Open final when Federer famously broke down after losing to Nadal, in a manner the likes of which the tennis world hadn't seen since Jana Novotna in the 1990s. Novotna famously cried on the Duchess of Kent's shoulder after losing a Wimbledon final to Steffi Graf.

Federer would soon be back on the winner’s podium, and over the following months would get the opportunity to hear some of the most memorable runner-up speeches.

After the 2009 French Open final, having lost to Federer in straight sets, Robin Soderling joked: "Nobody beats Robin Soderling 13 times in a row."

Not so jovially, a few weeks later, Andy Roddick called out "You've won five times!" in response to Federer's assertion that he knew how Andy was feeling after his excruciatingly close five-set loss in the Wimbledon final.

In 2010, perhaps the humblest of speeches was uttered by a man not known at the time for his humility, when Andy Murray proclaimed: "I can cry like Roger. It's just a shame I can't play like him."

It was a statement which helped win the Scot a raft of new fans.

Professional tennis is competing with a multitude of sports for television revenue, sponsorship and ticket sales, and these speeches - often revealing players' humanity when their defences are down – arguably helps fans connect to the game's stars and just as importantly they make headlines. The media can't get enough of them.

Unlike in team sports, where support for clubs is often passed down in the family and developed in communities, maintaining and growing a fan base in an individual sport such as tennis is dependent on establishing personal connections between the players and supporters.

Seeing these players shed a few tears or a little humility helps show that these guys are people - just like you and me.

So, as a tradition, it is bizarre and as a requisite, it's brutal, but for the growth of the game, it is crucial.

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Filed under:  Tennis
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Edwin

    I don't know whether it is imposed on the players to give a speech, but I think it is a good practice. You don't often see top players in any sport giving statement in front of a camera. When was the last time Messi, Ronaldo or Rooney seen giving a open interview? Seeing these players pour their hearts out gives me a sense of what their achievement or failure means to them. It just makes me respect and love them more

    January 28, 2014 at 3:58 pm | Reply
    • regista

      The loser's speech is a great development in tennis tradition. The only thing is, when players who are used to giving winner's speeches do it, they tend to overdo it, and thank the tournament organisers and the ball boys and the audience and so on, when that should be reserved to the winner of the tournament. He or she should do those kind of honours. At the Australian final a few days ago, Nadal giving such a long and articulated speech left almost no room to add anything to the winner Wawrinka, which seemed to add insult to injury (literally) after Nadal's injury had already ruined the final for the very deserving Champion Wawrinka (very sad to see a player who finally wins a major after 36 tries, not even fall on the ground or jump in the air or be overjoyed. I hope he wins many more) So my advice to Djokovic, Nadal, Murray and Federer: if you lose the final, keep the speech short: praise the winner, a few words about the game, thank you and see you next year.

      January 28, 2014 at 6:44 pm | Reply
      • troy

        I agree, Regista. It was almost as if more time was dedicated to the fact the Nadal lost than Wawrinka's win. But I think it's definitely an intimate moment for players and fans in those early moments following the conclusion of a match.

        February 23, 2014 at 4:04 pm |
      • William R. Delos Santos

        Give Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and whoever else enough leeway to make speeches, long or short, when they lose. All you have to do is NOT isten if you don't want to. And Stan can win five more slams and get the same "privilege". Maybe you don't want to hear what the top guys want to say when they lose, but don't you think there are millions of fans who don't share your opinion? And whose fault is it if Wawrinka didn't celebrate as you wanted him to doafter he won? It is not like he was instructed to tone down the celebration.

        February 25, 2014 at 3:16 am |
  2. Erlo

    Why you scurrd?

    January 28, 2014 at 6:08 pm | Reply
  3. Lifetime Competitive Tennis Player

    Tennis is a civilized sport that teaches good sportsmanship, honorable competing (you call your own lines at all levels of competition below the top level and you are expected to do it honestly). In singles, it teaches you how to solve problems by yourself without any innput from a coach or teammate . That is why you see a Nadal or Federer losing speech with its graciousness, humility and class, versus a Richard Sherman-esque loudmouthed, abrasive rant. Because of the nature of tennis, the lessons about life, my own capacity for solving problems, and human relations in general that I have learned while competing on the tennis court over the years are some of the most important things I have ever learned.

    January 28, 2014 at 6:13 pm | Reply
  4. pramok

    . . . . its really the intensity of the sports that makes a real good sportsperson cry after a good victory or worst loss in a tournament

    January 28, 2014 at 10:52 pm | Reply
  5. Factsseeker

    What is bizarre in the 21st century is that men still have to play the best of 5 sets and the women only three for each entire grand slam. How is it that men are so meek and unassertive that they can't even stand up for their rights in such an obvious case of discrimination ? Why are the men so scared of standing up for justice ? Is it the old male dinosaurs that run tennis who are blocking what clearly needs to change ? Male tennis players must be scared of somebody or something that prevents them from taking a real stand against this injustice. If it were the other way around, women would never allow this to continue.

    January 29, 2014 at 5:03 am | Reply
  6. Scott Robinson

    You know what you don't see? Tennis players all tatted-up cursing obscenities at broadcasters eager for the sound bytes. You don't see tennis players who say they were robbed on bad calls, or cheated. You don't see tennis players who elicit a hailstorm of media frenzy every time they step to a microphone to spout profanity, racism, sexism, homophobia, chauvinism or entitlement. What you DO see are athletes who understand the nature of their sport and the importance of showing humility in victory AND defeat. You see them congratulating each other on a battle well fought, on a win deserved, on a victory that will assuredly be reversed the next time around. You see comrades in sport who understand that the blood, sweat and tears are a part of the game that they love and that there is dignity in loss. You see TRUE sportsmanship, candid, on public display. And there is nothing bizarre about that.

    January 29, 2014 at 6:06 am | Reply
  7. Ana

    Indeed, these players have been living and loving tennis. Thus, TRUE SPORTSMANSHIP emerges naturally after every match. When they speak, it comes from the heart, and there is nothing bizarre about expressing your emotion. Agree, Lifetime Competitive Tennis Player and Scott, tennis is an honorable sport as in any other sport, and that the winner is praised, and the runner-up dignified ;)

    February 7, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Reply
  8. alice natividad

    tennis is a game of discipline a no-contact-game. which makes a tennis player looks more 'civil' and dignified to my opinion.

    you compete more against yourself than against your opponent because with every error you commit, whether forced or unforced you give point to your opponent. and so you must strive to be your best with every shot not always/not only trying to out-do your opponent.

    February 25, 2014 at 1:23 am | Reply
  9. Barbara Ball

    Let me explain to all you small brained people the difference between Fed's crying from Rafa's. Fed cried because he once again lost to Rafa and just could not stand it. Rafa was almost apologizing for winning. Rafa cried at the Australian final because he was badly hurt and could not COMPETE. He didn't cry because he lost. He actually accepts losing very well. He is such a competitor that to not be able to do that really hurt him and he was booed because some of the low life people in the crowd did not understand why he had left the court for treatment. They should have been told. He is the nicest of all the men playing and when they finally understood his problem and he was standing at the mike they were cheering him thus, the tears. Shape up people.

    March 16, 2014 at 3:37 am | Reply
    • Aced

      Big-brained Barbara,
      Excuse me, but I fail to see the reason for your small-brained statements. Did you even bother actually reading ANY of the comments on here? Posters are praising these players for their humility, grace and sportsmanship. No one is having the Fed/ Nadal argument here. I am so sick of you extreme, overzealous, lunatic fans ruining every tennis site with your tiresome Fed versus Nadal antics. Before continuing to needlessly insult people, perhaps you should learn to emulate some of the qualities you claim to admire in Nadal. And, just so we can be clear: No player is perfect. Roger has had his unfavorable moments, as has Rafa; The shoulder bump to Rosol perfectly illustrates that argument.

      April 9, 2014 at 12:53 am | Reply

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