A Salute to Mahut: How He Redeemed a Country After a World Cup Disaster
If the French Soccer Team had one tenth of the fortitude that their countryman Nicolas Mahut had in his little finger, they'd be in the elimination round right now and a threat to be reckoned with.
The egomaniac millionaires who couldn't seem to care enough about their country to put their differences aside for the largest sporting event in the world, the volatile and enigmatic coach who didn't have enough decency to shake the hand of the host nation after a miserable defeat, and yes, even the administrative higher-ups who were determined to put their own stamp on the team should all take lessons from the relatively unknown journeyman who held the entire world hostage for 11 hours and 5 minutes on court 18 of the All England Club.
Court 18. Not Court 1. Certainly not Centre Court.
This is the Story of Nicolas Mahut's life.
We tend to think of professional athletes as the lucky ones, those who were graced with awesome physical prowess by an accident of fate, for whom the world unfolds as effortlessly as the butterfly takes flight.
In a society that extracts perhaps too much vicarious self-esteem from their on-court exploits, we look at the millions of dollars that the top athletes make playing children's games and think that this somehow justifies the idolatry we hand them when things are going their (our) way and more so justifies the vitriol we sling when the milk runs sour.
Nicolas Mahut knows little of this.
Though a boys champion in his pre-professional days in the late 90's, Mahut's professional career has been defined by moderate success in the men's doubles game and brief moments of triumph in the singles game.
He once beat Rafael Nadal at the Queens Club Championship before losing to Andy Roddick in the final, but for the most part, has spent the last 10 years of his life having to qualify for major events and bouncing around the rankings in the 100's and sometimes below the 200's.
And though he has made about $2 million in prize money over the course of the last decade, this places him firmly in the middle class, and certainly not among his more recognized competitors in the private yacht, exclusive mansion, and ski chalet department.
Nicolas Mahut is playing the game without the fanfare and the riches, without the bling and celebrity, and without nary our notice.
And when no one is looking, this guy is giving everything he has to win that one big defining match.
Without the girls screaming his name, the commentators drooling over his assets, or the President vowing to turn his game around, Mahut is still grinding away.
As always, Mahut had to qualify for Wimbledon this year and as always it was a challenge.
After an easy opening round win, Mahut played a four-hour "epic" versus Alex Bogdanovic which he prevailed by the score of 3-6, 6-3, 24-22 only to drop the first two sets of his next qualifier and then coming roaring back to win in five.
This before he ever stepped on to Court 18 on June 22 to take on a fresh big-hitting American by the name of John Isner in what would become one of the greatest (or certainly most interesting) tennis matches that was ever played.
By now, you all know the story.
How the scrappy Frenchman held off the American in the longest match ever played.
How he held his serve 68 times in the fifth set; each time facing elimination.
How he didn't let his nerves effect him, successfully defending match points with clean winners, when a lesser man would've netted one or missed a line.
And how eventually, he was defeated, forever immortalized as the loser in a game for the record books.
A clearly devastated Mahut still had the class to shake his opponent's hand and even give him a hug.
He still had the wherewithal to answer the inane reporters questions and accept whatever trinket that the All England Club presented to him with grace.
In the end, two defeated sports entities are returning home to France, one a talented shell with no heart, and the other with heart big enough for them all, if only he had a little more talent.
And I would entreaty the French to embrace the latter rather than spending all their time spurning the former.
Lift Mahut up on your shoulders and present him to the world as a true example of the French spirit, because in the eyes of the world he's already considerably redeemed the miserable antics of the soccer club.
And as for what I expect from Nicolas Mahut, I can only assume he will continue to grind away, qualifying for majors and dreaming about the day when it will be his arms that are held high clutching the cup of glory.
But for now, and it may be small consolation, I'll always remember Mahut as the man who unleashed his will on the world, and for three days made them watch, witness to the stuff of legends on Court 18.
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