Loser of the Week: Radek Stepanek

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Part of our mission here at Loser Of The Week is to prove that the title of “loser” doesn’t have to be worn with shame. Sure, sometimes our losers have committed grievous sins worthy of cartoon-based takedowns, but often they’re unlucky souls who just can’t catch a break. And then there are losers like Radek Stepanek, who receive not condemnation, but recognition for losing “better” than most in their field.

French Open tennis is half over for 2016, and there have already been 230 losers in men’s and women’s singles alone. One of those losers, 37-year-old Radek Stepanek, is currently ranked 128th in the world, but is a well-known veteran with a career-high ranking of eight. He came through the tournament’s qualifying rounds and earned a date against Andy Murray, the tournament’s second-seeded player. The two had been competitive in previous singles matches, with Stepanek pulling off the upset twice in eight tries. But few expected him to take a two-sets-to-none lead. Murray rebounded before darkness suspended the match, and when play resumed the following day, Murray and Stepanek played one set to decide it all.

When Stepanek took a 5-4 lead and merely had to break Murray’s serve to win the match, movie producers formed a line outside the locker room. Dax Shepard was contacted about playing the role of Stepanek, and animal handlers prepared a North African ostrich to portray Murray. When Stepanek gained a 0-15 lead in that potentially decisive game, the opening sequence of Stepping Up was written. When the game got to deuce, John Williams began composing the score.

But then Murray did a thing that elite players like him often do: he persevered through a close game, and gained the upper hand over his more experienced but more fatigued opponent. He walked away with a 7-5 victory in the fifth set, and has continued on to the quarterfinals. While Stepanek had no such opportunity, he looked impressive in defeat, and will hope to build on several months of strong play as the tennis season moves onto grass courts. In June of 2014, Crooked Scoreboard tweeted about what we thought was the imminent end to Stepanek’s career, but nearly two years later, we’re glad he’s stuck around to accept this prestigious title from us.

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Dustin Petzold is the editor-in-chief of Crooked Scoreboard and is undefeated in tennis grand slams. You should follow him on Twitter.

Nate Koehler is a cartoonist and illustrator from Wisconsin, which is kind of close to France. You should follow him on Twitter, too.

 

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