Nadal had repeated arguments with chair umpire Carlos Bernardes during his semifinal of the ATP tournament in Rio this February, saying at one point he would demand that he no longer be allowed to work his matches. The disagreements usually involved time violations, a frequent subject during Nadal's matches. The Telegraph, in a story published just before the French Open, noted that Bernardes had not been assigned to any of Nadal’s matches since, with both Nadal and the ATP confirming that the player had made the request.
Nadal had said at Indian Wells that time violations should not have been strictly enforced because of the humidity during the match, which went on beyond 3 a.m. Following his first-round match at the French Open, Nadal added that he was particularly displeased after being informed that he would receive a time warning for going off court to put his clothes on the right way—his shorts were on backwards—when he returned from the break.
Asked about the issue again after his second-round match, Nadal indicated that his request was not a big issue.
“The thing is easy. I asked to [not] be umpired for some umpires in my career few times,” he said. “Is not the first time that I did. And after a few tournaments he was on the chair umpire again with me. I never had any problem no one.
Nadal was critical of the subject being raised again, saying, “You can talk about all the people who work on the ATP, all the umpires, everybody if I really had some problem during the 13 years, or 13 or 19 years that I gonna have my career, if I never had one serious problem with nobody, if I was not respectful with anyone, and then you come to Mallorca and you ask to me.”
However, Nadal’s request has been questioned by some players. “There are some chair umpires in some matches that I remember that I wasn’t very happy with how they did their job,” said world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. “But I never thought of requesting a chair umpire not to be a chair umpire in my matches.”
Players and the tour have acknowledged that such requests are a rather common practice. But there seems to be agreement that top players should not get more influence than others.
“All players should be treated equally,” said world No. 2 Roger Federer. “The players understand that not every request can be granted. So at the end of the day, you can make a request, but it doesn't mean you're going to get it.
“I think everybody should be treated the same way. It goes back to the same thing that everybody is requesting things when they want to play."
Stanislas Wawrinka said he has done the same thing as Nadal, but emphasized that umpires should only be taken off a player’s match because of officiating errors, not personal conflict.
“I have already made such request over a short period for direct problems and issues I had with the umpire,” said Wawrinka. “So when a player makes such a request, it should be granted only if the umpire has made mistakes or faults. If it's just because you don't like the person, this request should not be accepted. Now, I'm not aware of Rafa's motivations. I have read a few articles that said that it would be about the pressure this particular umpire put on him with regards to timing.”
Wawrinka also suggested that top players receive more leeway because umpires do not want to be taken off high-profile matches. The ATP has moved to enforce its time violation rules more strictly, having drawing complaints from players about the timing and choice of enforcement.
“So you need to be more strict about the 25 seconds, and umpires don't all keep the same watch for all players,” said Wawrinka, “because they know that if they have trouble with one of the top players and they can't be on their match—well, tough for them, because they like being there for the finals, and if they have problems with top players it becomes difficult with them.
“So that's the problem we have on the tour with regards to particular rules. Umpires are not as strict on the center court when they are with the top players as compared to when they are on court No. 17.”
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga pointed to the delicate relationship between umpires and players. While umpires, like players, should be evaluated on their performance, said the Frenchman, he agreed that there should not be a penalty for enforcing the rules.
“Well, I do understand, on the one hand, and then it's also a bit complicated, because we give our best on the court, and I guess the umpires do their best,” he said. “When we're not good we have a direct sanction. We are out of the tournament or if we are not in the Top 100 players, we are out of Grand Slams altogether. So I don't know what I should think about this.
“It could happen to me. There is one umpire I have the feeling that each time I played with him there was something that happened, whereas most of the time nothing happens with the umpires. But that's the way it is. If really they don't get on and it creates major problems on the court, then it's okay. But if it is because the umpire is not in his favor during the match but still follows the rules, then I do not understand.”
Andy Murray received two time violations during his second-round match at the French Open, but said the time rule “was there for a reason,” even if he did not agree with one of the calls.
“On the second one, I genuinely was at the line in good time but they were showing the highlights,” he said. “So sometimes things like that make it tougher for the players but there were points today where I got told I was playing too slow.”
Officials have not indicated they will re-examine their rules and processes for umpire selection.
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