Today's loss provides us with two comparable situations. The defending champion being upended by the same man: Swedish brutal bash-baller Robin Söderling.
Rafa had his Roland Garros streak ended, and Roger's semifinal streak and his No. 1 ranking could—in worst case scenario for him—be lost forever.
The stakes were thus very high for both players.
Which of the two responded most graciously to his defeat? Who gave the most praise to his conqueror? Who just said: "I lost. He was the better man on court today," as a true gentleman would do?
Judge for yourself.
I have chosen what I perceive as the "worst" and "the best" part of both interviews—worst defined as not giving praise/blaming it on something else and best defined as giving praise.
And added I a link to the full interview for those readers who have the time and will for that.
So here we go, I've done some highlighting for the people in a hurry:
Q: 6-0, 6-1 when you played Soderling in Rome. That was the last result. So, is it because he was very aggressive today? Was it having an influence?
Rafael Nadal: No, not at all.
Q: Were you surprised by the level of his game?
Nadal: No, not at all. I’ve seen him playing quite a few times, and that was not a surprise. It was my game level that was a surprise to me today.
Q: It was a great four-year winning period. All things had to end, and it happened today, your series of wins.
Did you expect such power tennis from Soderling before the game? Were you surprised during the match of the way he hit his ball consistently so hard, especially on the forehand, but also in general?
Nadal: No. No, no. He didn’t surprise me, because I know how he play, how dangerous he can be. Yesterday, I didn’t play my best tennis. No, I didn’t attack in no one moment. I play very short, and I make him very easy to play at this level. So when one player bad, must lose.
That’s what happened today. I have to accept with the same calm when I win than when I lose. After four years I lose here, and the season continue.
Q: Were you surprised that he was able to sustain the level of play that he did throughout the match? Did you expect him, at some stage, to perhaps have a little dip, which he never really did?
Nadal: Well, you know, when, for I played very short, you know. I play very short. I didn’t play great. I didn’t play with calm at no one time during all the match.
That makes him easy to play at this level during all the match, no? So, was my fault , and more than well, sure, he did well. He did very well, but I didn’t yeah, I think I didn’t play my best tennis. And I didn’t play not my best tennis, no?
I didn’t play my tennis, and for that reason, I lose. That’s it.
Q: Now that you’ve been knocked out, would you say Andy Murray or Roger Federer is the favorite to win the title?
Nadal: We will see. I don’t know. Davydenko or Verdasco is there. Del Potro I think is there. We will see. Federer is the favorite, in my opinion.
This last quote is added, because though not directly bad, he doesn't acknowledge the man who just beat him as one of the favourites despite being among the last eight—a stage some of the four he mentioned weren't even at yet.
I admit, it is far from the worst, but it could show grace in defeat if he brought Söderling up here. But it would also be strange after blaming the loss so much on his own play.
Nadal: I congratulate him , and keep working hard for the next tournament...Well, sure, he did well. He did very well , but I didn’t, yeah, I think I didn’t play my best tennis.
I think today, I didn’t play my tennis, and I wasn’t ready to come back over a good player like Soderling.
Q: Was it the wonderful game level of Soderling on this surface, or because you were on a bad day or any other phenomenon, like you played in Barcelona then in Madrid? Maybe you played too many tournaments.
Nadal: Stop it. Stop it. Had I played my best level against Soderling, maybe the results would have been different. But he played a very good level of tennis, and I didn’t play well, so the results are what they are.
Q: What is it like playing against Soderling, and do you think he will reach top 10 in the future?
Nadal: How old are him?
Nadal: Yeah, he can do it. Why not?
Q: If there were no one from Spain, would you like Federer to win?
Nadal: Yeah, that would be great . He’s tried to win it for many years, and he was very unfortunate, losing three finals and one semifinal.
If one guy deserves it, that’s him.
This one, though not related to Söderling, is added, because it clearly shows grace.
As for the quotes both having bad formulations and good formulations in them, it is because any praise of Söderling in this interview is actually followed by a "but I didn't play well," and I believe it would be misleading to take the quotes out of that context.
Now on to Federer.
Federer's Worst and Best: They Are Too Intertwined To Separate
Roger Federer: You know, I mean, at times I guess I could have played a bit better. He served well. I didn't take my chances early on in the second set. And then in the third set as well.
So, I just missed too many chances today, which I didn't do last year, and I was able to run away with it. Today I couldn't do that.
Q: You were 12-0 against him. What did he do today that really bothered you on the court?
Federer: He played really well, you know, for almost an entire match, really. I'm not blaming the conditions or anything, but I think they were in his favor towards the end . Because, I mean, these were some serious, tough conditions, you know . If you serve 225, 230, you can still hit through the court on the serve.
I may be lacking those five to 10ks extra on the serve to hit through a guy on the serve, but that's the way conditions are. I can't complain, because it was the same for both of us.
(Here, Federer is saying that he is not blaming the conditions, yet using them to explain his defeat. Söderling is strong enough not to be influenced by it with his fast serve. Roger is not. His analysis may be perfectly correct, but isn't it complaining as well?)
Federer: But he played aggressive and kept on coming. When the conditions got more heavy when we came back from the rain delay, he played well, you know.
Q: Do you think that Robin can go all the way this year?
Federer: Yeah, I mean, once you're in the semifinals, there's four players that can go all the way. Counts for him too; he was in the finals here last year.
If he makes the finals again, he'll feel more comfortable, you know, in that kind of a situation, a position. Maybe he'll play a better final. Who knows? But he definitely has a chance, yeah.
Q: What's the feeling when you have such a powerful ball in your racquet?
Federer: Well, it can be pleasant and unpleasant because you have less to do and you can't play your game, you can't impose your game. As for me, I'm strong on both sides if I have to attack and if I have to defend and take the speed of the other player.
That's why I had such a good record against him. So, not too much of a problem for me, but today he played very well. He was impressive.
Q: Would the conditions prevent you from varying your shots as much as you would have liked to?
Federer: Yeah, slightly. But then I did what I wanted to do. I just missed some opportunities at the end of the second set, beginning of the third. The rain was not very helpful. I was one break up in the fourth, and, well, I lost three sets; this is what I did. That's why it's frustrating leaving the tournament like that.
But at the end of the day, he needs to take credit. He played incredibly well from the beginning to the end and in very difficult conditions. So, it's a bit of a shame. The conditions were what they were, but he deserves it. He played very well.
Who's the most sore loser in their respective defeats? Who shows least grace? Well, to me at least the conclusion points primarily—not only—in one direction: to Rafa.
An asterisk to the whole discussion is that Rafa felt he played a poor match. Roger felt he played pretty well. Those feelings may influence how they handle their post-match interview—but shouldn't dominate it completely.
I am aware of the risk of stirring up yet another fruitless debate. But I bring this article to print to add a counterweight to the articles about Federer's bitterness and lack of grace in defeat.