On The Pitch, At Centre Court: The Week In Sports

Soccer and tennis are a world apart when it comes to sportsmanship, as we've seen in the ongoing World Cup and Wimbledon tournaments. Slate's Mike Pesca talks with NPR's Don Gonyea about the contrast.

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DON GONYEA, HOST:

There's no crying in baseball. And there's no biting in tennis. Well, hopefully, there's no biting in any sport. But in tennis - tennis, the gentleman's game - players might even give up a point in the name of sportsmanship. If you're wondering what all of this means, we've got slate.com's Mike Pesca to sort it all out. Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hello. How are you?

GONYEA: OK. So the World Cup - it's getting lots of buzz, as we just heard from Tom Goldman. Let's start there. What can we expect from week fours as the U.S. team preps for Belgium?

PESCA: Well, Belgium's good. But it's not as if they're this insurmountable team. And I have to tell you, just the nature of soccer, as we're hearing, there - you know, Brazil seems to be this insurmountable team. But they are - they're taken to penalties, and it's anyone's game at the end of it.

Soccer's not what they call a deterministic sport - basketball is. Meaning, in basketball, there are so many chances to score. Most good chances result in a score. But in soccer, you know, we see these games where one team's dominant, and the score is 1-1, or nil-nil, as you go into penalties.

So the United States - not only because of that but because they are a good team and because Brazil's good but not great, they really have a chance to win. Today should be some good games, too, including Costa Rica against Greece. And France is playing soon. I love this tournament.

GONYEA: And the games feel different, now, with this knockout round upon us.

PESCA: Oh, yeah. And, you know, in the first - I kind of - I don't object to it. I understand that the United States has some soccer ignorance. But when the United States qualified for group play, it was seen as - well, how'd they do it? They lost their last game.

And so the obvious analogy is, you know, the Spurs lost the last game of the regular season, right? They still qualified for the playoffs. But I guess Americans have a mindset where regular season and playoffs are very distinct. But in World Cup, it all blends together.

You know, another analogy I made is George W. Bush won the presidency. But he lost Hawaii, which was the last state to vote. So don't get hung up on what happened in the last game. Just think of it like the United States qualified in the regular season. This is the playoffs.

GONYEA: OK. These soccer games - once you get sucked in, they can get pretty dramatic. In the past few weeks, we've seen biting. We've seen playacting to convince referees of foul play where foul play is not present.

But in tennis, Wimbledon is underway. We see quite the opposite. What's going on?

PESCA: Well, yes. And, by the way, the Luis Suarez biting incident - his explanation was that his teeth just fell into the Italian player. I love that. They didn't buy it. He's suspended for 10 games.

GONYEA: (Laughing) It happens.

PESCA: But - so in tennis, Djokovic is playing against - this is a couple of matches ago - Djokovic is playing against Stepanek. And a shot goes out, and it would be to Djokovic's favor. And they look at the videotape, as they can do, and Djokovich just - and the call was wrong. So they can replay the point. But you know what Djokovic says? Just give it to him.

And something like that, an example of sportsmanship like that, might never go on in the sport of soccer where we see all this flopping and all this drama. But, you know, what I really think is the difference is, I think it's the difference between an individual sport and a team sport because in an individual sport, it's entirely up to Djokovic to say that's no problem. On a team sport, players flop around and try to get a card not only for themselves, but for their teammates. Therefore, this, you know, level of dramatics is seen as not selfish.

GONYEA: And Wimbledon competing with the World Cup, of course. That's slate.com's Mike Pesca. You can listen to his daily podcast, The Gist with Mike Pesca, on iTunes. Thanks so much, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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