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5 most heart-warming moments in tennis history

Anuradha Santhanam

We've seen our favourite players display their immense prowess on court. Roger Federer's tweeners, drop shots, Serena Williams' powerhouse serves - fans have seen it all.But behind those sporting icons are hearts of gold. Here are five times tennis players touched fans' hearts with displays of kindness, sportsmanship and true humanity.

#5 Jack Sock gives Lleyton Hewitt a point

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American Jack Sock was playing Australian tennis icon Lleyton Hewitt prior to the former No. 1’s pre-announced retirement at a Hopman Cup match in Perth ahead of the Australian Open season in 2016.

23rd-ranked Sock was trailing Hewitt 4-5 in the first set of their tie at the national team tournament, and had to break serve to stay in the set. Hewitt, playing for Australia Gold, led Sock 30-0 in that game, but then saw the chair umpire call his serve out.

In an incredible display of sportsmanship, Sock stopped the game, telling Hewitt, “That was in if you want to challenge it.” An incredulous Hewitt stared at Sock for a few minutes, unsure of what to do.

Hewitt eventually challenged it to see that Sock was right and the shot was, in fact, in. Hewitt won the point and eventually the match in straight sets, taking his side, Australia Gold, to a 3-0 win over the United States.

But it was Sock’s sportsmanship that was lauded in that match, and it was quickly recognized as one of the best displays of on-court behaviour that tennis had ever seen.

#4 Jim Courier offers to postpone a match for Pete Sampras

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Two American champions faced off in a quarterfinal match at the 1995 Australian Open. Defending champion Pete Sampras, who by then had won three of his eventual 14 Grand Slams, had the previous year beaten his compatriot Todd Martin to the title. He was on a high, and had ended the two previous years as the world’s top ranked men’s singles player.

Courier had already won all of his eventual four Grand Slams, and had won the Australian Open two consecutive years – 1992 and 1993. But going up against an utterly dominant Sampras, he may not have fancied his chances.

Sampras was then being coached by American former tennis professional Tim Gullikson, who in his own career had pulled off a singles victory over John McEnroe. Gullikson, who joined Sampras’ coaching team in 1992, truly helped Sampras’ innate sporting ability shine.

It was during his time with Gullikson that Sampras won four Grand Slams and first hit the No. 1 ranking, and their partnership was both immensely fruitful and very warm.

But in 1995, on tour with Sampras, Gullikson suffered a series of massive strokes, initially mis-diagnosed as heart issues. It was later found that Gullikson had inoperable brain cancer, and a stricken, emotional Sampras struggled to process the news. He broke down in the middle of his five-set match against Courier, having to walk away from the net several times.

Courier went up to Sampras and offered to put the match on hold; in a display of true sportsmanship, he said the pair could resume their contest the next day.

Sampras, although struggling to play, would end up declining the offer, and ultimately defeated Courier in a long drawn out encounter. Tragically, Gullikson would pass away a year later.

#3 Carla Suarez Navarro helps fainting ball boy

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Great tennis isn’t all the Australian Open is known for. The year-opening Grand Slam has seen several people – players and spectators alike – repeatedly take ill. Many players have retired from the Open entirely due to the oppressively hot conditions in Melbourne.

It’s such a common problem that organisers even insitituted a heat rule nearly two decades ago to deal with it. The Australian Open Extreme Heat Policy came into being in 1998, 10 years after Rod Laver Arena first saw its retractable roof installed.

Ball boys have taken ill; Novak Djokovic has retired from matches due to the heat, as have several others over the years.

At the 2016 Australian Open, Spanish ace Carla Suarez Navarro, seeded 10th at the tournament, was playing her first round match on the very first day of play against Swiss Viktorija Golubic. She won the first set after a relatively tough battle against her much lower-ranked opponent.

Halfway through the second set, Suarez Navarro noticed that a ball boy was about to faint in the extreme heat, and immediately went to his aid. She attempted to talk to the youngster, who found it difficult to respond to her. Putting her arm around the ball boy, she escorted him to the sidelines, where he was assisted by medical staff.

Speaking to reporters after the tournament, Navarro said, “They are (out) there like us but we are drinking, we have ice towels. For them, it's not easy.”

#2 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga helps a ball girl off court

@Tsonga7 le gentlemanhttps://t.co/t5x52jjJvk

— Eurosport.fr (@Eurosport_FR) January 20, 2016

Ranked 9th in the world, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is known for his big serve and his powerful forehand. Playing his second round match at the 2016 Australian Open against local teen Omar Jasika, Tsonga was cruising through his match without much trouble.

A young ball girl, standing behind the baseline on Tsonga’s side of the court, was hit in the face by a rogue tennis ball, and immediately reeled from the shock as she began crying behind the tall Frenchman.

Seeing her in distress, Tsonga immediately stopped play himself. Putting his arm around the girl in reassurance, he gestured for immediate medical attention, following which he linked arms with the girl and escorted her off court.

The crowd stood up in admiration of the Frenchman's kindness, and it was without a doubt the feel-good story of the tournament that year.

#1 Rafael Nadal comforts a crying Roger Federer

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The 2009 Australian Open was known for several brilliant matches, most of all the five-hour encounter between Fernando Verdasco and his Davis Cup teammate, and eventual tournament champion, Rafael Nadal.

During the course of the Australian Open, it was Nadal who had been World No. 1 – although Federer would later take over that role and end the year in the top spot.

At that year’s Australian Open, though, the final promised some blockbuster tennis. Novak Djokovic had stuttered and lost in straight sets to an in-form Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals, and Roddick was drawn to play the Swiss, who had ended the previous year not ranked World No. 1 for the first time in five years.

Federer had already won the title at Melbourne Park three times before, and was a 12-time Grand Slam winner going into the final. Meanwhile, Nadal had only five Slams in comparison at the time, and it was the first time the King of Clay had ever reached a hardcourt Grand Slam final.

That day, fans were treated to a brilliant display of the now-iconic rivalry between the pair, with their match going back and forth. Nadal eventually took Federer to five sets before winning his first Australian Open title, also his only one so far.

An emotional and visibly disappointed Federer was called to the podium to give his speech, and he repeatedly struggled with his words as he was presented the runners’ up trophy. With the overwhelmed Swiss taking a backseat on the stage, Nadal was called up to take his own trophy – but immediately after doing so, he walked up to Federer and put his arm around him.

Holding Federer by the shoulder as he cried, Nadal whispered a few words into his Swiss rival’s ear, making him break out into a smile.

The two may be the fiercest rivals on court, but off-court they display a camaraderie and sportsmanship that transcends all sport.

Edited by Staff Editor

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