PARIS – In sports, there are winners, losers and those who truly excel by doing both with grace and style.
Rafael Nadal is a fine example of someone who understands that. Teddy Riner is not.
Let's start with Nadal, the new U.S. Open champion.
Mr. Muscles from Mallorca understands how inappropriate and borderline indecent it is to already be asking whether he is or will become tennis' greatest player of all time.
Roger Federer is not dead yet. Not even close. The Swiss owner of a record 16 Grand Slam tournament titles still has a far, far bigger claim to the honorific title of "greatest."
So, too, does Rod Laver. Not once but twice he managed a feat that, because it is harder to achieve on today's larger array of playing surfaces, might forever elude Federer and Nadal: winning all four Grand Slams in a calendar year.
So as great as Nadal is and as well as he played these past two weeks in New York, let's not get too carried away by his ninth major title. To his credit, Nadal himself is not. He knows how hard it was to win this many, more than he dared imagine just a few years ago.
Although still only a youngster of 24, winning slams won't get much easier for Nadal from here, especially given his physically exhausting, wear-and-tear style of play. The troublesome knees that forced him to skip Wimbledon in 2009 and niggled at times again this season could, one still fears, stop him — and the premature discussion of whether he has the makings of the greatest — in his tracks before he gets close to Federer's mark.
And who honestly can say that Federer will stop at 16 titles? Federer may not be the invincible and intimidating force he once was yet he will still be among the favorites to win more majors again next year.
Nadal knows that and, as he showed to his immense credit in New York, is not prepared to disrespect his great rival or the immensity of everything he has achieved.
"The talk about if I am better or worse than Roger is stupid, because the titles say he's much better than me," Nadal said. "That's true at that moment. I think that will be true all my life."
Riner is an entirely different story.
Because he stands more than 2 meters (6-foot-6) tall and weighs some 130 kilograms (286 pounds), only the foolhardy or immensely confident can afford to pick a fight with judo's quadruple world champion.
Even so, it has to be said: At the world championships in Tokyo this week, Riner was an atrociously poor loser.
"I was cheated. I was robbed," he caterwauled after judges ruled that he lost the open weight-class final to Daiki Kamikawa of Japan, a decision that cost the Frenchman a record fifth gold medal.
Even those who aren't experts on judo know that not bowing and saluting your opponent — as Riner did — is bad form.
Riner also wept on the podium and sadly shook his head, like an innocent man meeting the hangman's noose, when the silver medal was hung around his tree-trunk neck.
Riner felt that Kamikawa fought timidly and thus was an undeserving champion. Fine. Riner's mistake was broadcasting his angry inner thoughts to the world.
"It's not fair play," super-sulk said. "I've always been told that what is won is won and don't let anyone steal from your plate. I feel like this has been stolen from me, truly stolen."
Riner is only 21. He still has plenty more time, when the world championships go to Paris next year and at the London Olympics in 2012, to stamp his greatness on judo and, more importantly, time to learn some manners in case he loses.
Because, as Nadal shows, being both a champion and a gentleman is the finest combination there is.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org