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Nice work if you can get it – Rafanole in Thailand

  Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the US Open final, 2011, which Nole won. Theirs is the only tennis rivalry that has involved meetings in the finals of all four of the Slams.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the US Open final, 2011, which Nole won. Theirs is the only tennis rivalry that has involved meetings in the finals of all four of the Slams.

Did you see the pictures of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in Thailand? Didn’t they look lovely in their silk jackets – Rafa in blue for the queen, a bespectacled Nole in yellow for the king? And how respectful were they as they lay wreaths at the Erawan Shrine, site of an Aug. 17 bombing that killed 20 and injured more than 120.

Rafa and Nole, in turn, received gifts, including ceremonial loincloths, enjoyed a little retail therapy and played a one-hour exhibition – which Nole won 6-4, 6-2 and for which they were each paid a little more $2 million, no doubt for their respective charities. 

Still, that’s right, one hour, $2 mill. As the Gershwin song says, “Nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you try.”

Actually, you can’t. You’d have to do something that appeals to millions of people. We in the United States are so inured in football, basketball, baseball and hockey but particularly football that we forget how global tennis is – a theme of “Water Music,” the debut novel in my series “The Games Men Play.” Whereas no one in Asia cares about American football – which is why Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers says he likes to travel abroad in the offseason. No one knows who he is. (It’s a recurring motif in “The Penalty for Holding,” the forthcoming second novel in my series.)

Tennis, on the other hand, is huge worldwide but particularly in Asia. Rafa and Nole have millions of Twitter followers. If Thailand paid them millions, it’s because the country hopes their appearance on behalf of Thai tourism in the wake of the bombing will generate millions more.

And if filling charitable coffers and spreading the gospel of tennis means visiting countries like Thailand that are less than democratic, well, that’s just another game men play.