Australian Open: Highway Robbery II

Nalby and Isner played a 4.5 hour-long match that ended with Isner’s victory.

Isner started cramping after Nalby took a bathroom break right before his serve in the 5th set.  Isner had very limited movement and was unable to move around the court.  Nalby had two BP chances, which I’ll admit he quite idiotically wasted.

However, he gained another BP chance at 8-8 in the 5th set.  The way Isner played the 5th set, his serve was the one shot keeping him level.

He hit a 1st serve that the linesman called out, but umpire Kader Nouni overruled it as “in.”  The crowd was buzzing and there was confusion as to what happened.  Even Isner, in his post-match presser, conceded he thought the ball was way out.  Nalby didn’t hear the overrule call and took a few seconds to figure out what happened.  Nalby checked the mark and asked for a challenge.  At that critical moment in the game, especially when it’s an umpire’s overrule, any right-thinking umpire would allow the challenge.   Kader did not, arguing too much time had passed.  I wasn’t counting the time, but it didn’t feel excessive, especially given the crowd’s noise and confusion involved.

Neil Harman was hung up on the “But Nalby took too much time to challenge” issue — but how many players regularly flout the time rule (under normal circumstances, unlike this match) and are given leniency?  If you’re going to use someone as an example for time-enforcement, there are a million better occasions than at 8-8 in the 5th set, when a call makes the difference between whether or not a player will serve for the match.  There’s a conflict of interest involved too, because Nalby wasn’t challenging the linesman’s call, but the umpire’s overrule.  So I think Mr. Harman missed the point here — he should really just stick to gushing over Andy Murray.

(Photo: Getty Images)

The kicker is that Isner’s serve was actually out.  Nalby was rattled by Kader’s non-granting of the challenge.  Should he have let it affect his game?  No.  Is it totally his fault that it did?  Can you in good conscience immediately list 3 players off the top of your head who wouldn’t be rattled after two-errant-calls-in-a-row like that were made, late in the 5th set of a 4 hr 44 minute match?  I can only think of one possibly-maybe candidate.

Of course, given the fact Nalby lost, inordinate attention will be paid to Nalby’s earlier choke and his poor last game, in which he got broken.  I accept that, but only as a sidenote.  Breaking Isner’s serve, given Isner’s hobbled state, would have tilted the odds in Nalby’s favor.  Would Nalby have served it out?  I don’t know.  But he was robbed of the chance by Kader.  Kader has now also taken away some of the due credit that should go to Isner as well, for winning the match.

The media reaction following the match was its usual mixed bag.  The worst example was this article, released not even an hour after the match, titled “David Nalbandian’s Charm School.”  In a day that saw other male players arguing with their opponents and smashing racquets, Nalby’s loss was pinned down to “lack of charm.”  The piece is actually from a site that has very informative articles, which makes it even more puzzling.  They are possibly biased against Argentinean players, given their most recent profile on DelPo, sub-titled “The Age of Ugliness,” and the lovely quote, “Anyone seeking grace, elegance or sophistication with their tennis, look elsewhere.”

I side with John McEnroe’s opinion on this incident (which I’m sure immediately boosts my credibility as a rational observer).  McEnroe commented Kader Nouni was an “idiot” who should no longer be working.  Now, I remember during the DelPo-Fed USO ’09 final, McEnroe had strong opinions against players taking too much time before challenging.  He was critical of DelPo’s long looks at the mark.  With Nalby’s incident, it’s clear the “time it took to challenge a call” was the last thing an umpire should have minded.

Credit to Isner, yes, but only a small obligatory portion.  It’s the umpire’s fault that Isner’s victory now detracts from Isner’s performance.  You can count all the BPs Nalby wasted — that doesn’t change the fact that Nalby was still robbed of a great chance to break.  Let’s keep in mind that when Nalby beat Federer at the 2005 Shanghai WTF, he also choked a 4-0 lead in the 5th set.  Fed broke Nalby to go 6*-5 in the decider, only for Nalby to break back and eventually win.  Nalby, he may get tight at times (all great players, even Fed and Nadal, do not always take BP/MPs on their first or fifth tries), but if you don’t rob Nalby of a proper chance, he can at times pull through too.

This recalls Nalby’s SF match against Andy Roddick at the 2003 USO SF, when Nalby was two sets up and held MP.  An errant call on MP and Nalby’s subsequent unravelling led to Roddick’s comeback win.  The scenario today against Isner was much worse than 2003 — given this incident took place late in the 5th set, Nalby was probably not as responsible for losing either.


Nalby gave a straight-shooting, call-it-like-I-see-it presser:

Q.  You took a break at 6-7 in the fifth set as well, a toilet break.  

DAVID NALBANDIAN:  Yeah, I couldn’t hold it.  (Laughter.) 

During Nalby’s bathroom break in the 5th set, Neil Harman questioned the appropriateness of the break and implied gamesmanship was involved.  Well, Mr. Harman, Nalby “couldn’t hold it.”  I’m amused by this answer.

Q.  Will you be making an official complaint to the ATP or to the supervisor or to the Grand Slam…  

DAVID NALBANDIAN:  Doesn’t make any sense.  I mean, if they really want to do something, I don’t need to do anything, because it’s on the TV, on the video.  

And every time talk to ATP, it’s like nothing, so what is ATP is for the players or for somebody else, the benefits?  

Nalby sounds disgruntled with the ATP.  If I were Rafa, I’d pounce right now and try to at least probe Nalby for support, or the phone number of a friend of a friend who could secure a Player’s Council vote in Rafa’s favor.

Q.  What would you do if you, in your next Grand Slam, you walk out and you see the same umpire in the chair?  Would you be happy? 

DAVID NALBANDIAN:  I don’t think he  I don’t think he’s gonna be able to do this kind of matches.  I mean, it’s no doubt about it.  

 Q.  You don’t think he’s qualified?  You don’t think he’s up to it? 

DAVID NALBANDIAN:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  No doubt.  Nothing happen on the match, and in that moment, he call overrule, I call HawkEye, and he didn’t give it.  

I never see something like that.  So ATP have to check what they doing for the umpires.  I mean, they practice?  They what?  I don’t know.

Kader first came to prominence on the WTA.  He needs a demotion or he should, you know, return to the WTA.  He’s unfit to stay mentally focused on a match lasting over 3 hours.

Q.  Well, he spends most of his time umpiring on the WTA Tour.  That’s true.  

DAVID NALBANDIAN:  (Laughing.)  They serve too slow for these kind of guys.  


Reading Nalby’s presser makes me sad.  The fact that he’s laughing during some of his answers feels like resignation.  Though he makes a small dig at the WTA, his underlying point is reasonable.  Was Kader really capable of umpiring a match that went over 4 hours?  Kader’s nonchalant attitude during the whole fracas suggested he’d become more accustomed to less than 2 hour affairs.  The guy actually pats his hair after arguing with Nalby.  Seriously.  I do not openly examine my nails when I’m having a project-related discussion at work.  What is with the hair patting?

Apparently, Kader later apologized to Nalby.  Which automatically makes everything okay.  Especially if Kader added that if there was anything he could do to help, besides changing the call and giving Nalby the 2nd serve BP he earned, he would consider it.  Goodness.


About mariposaxprs

I play favorites with Juan Martin Del Potro, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, Gilles Simon and the long line of mercurial talent that drives me to despair in front of the screen at odd hours during the week.
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7 Responses to Australian Open: Highway Robbery II

  1. queridorafa says:

    The umpire WAS stupid! Since when are you not allowed to call someone who does something stupid, stupid? Also, does that article on Nalby on tennisspace even have a byline? It doesn’t seem to. Kind of odd.
    I did not realize Isner thought the serve was “way out.” Hmmmmm…that’s a little sketchy. It’s tough, b/c obviously players typically take whatever little “lucky” calls they get (and it’s not even clear if they have a choice in the matter–seems like the umpire’s decisions are final), w/ the exception being on clay, when players will concede points if they know a ball was in/out. And obviously Nalby doesn’t blame him. I guess it just bothered me that John seemed to embrace the win w/ such gusto (at least in his on-court celebration/on-court interview) when he got such a huge helping hand from the umpire. I would have preferred more restraint/sheepishness.

    • mariposaxprs says:

      I really want to know what possessed the umpire when he disallowed the challenge. I’d heard it didn’t even take 8 seconds for Nalby to raise his hand for the challenge! 8 seconds! That’s how long it takes for a certain player (I won’t name him, except he’s oft-referred to as an elf or a giant) to walk up to the mark on the court~~ On a simple rules basis, that umpire was way out of line.

      I don’t really blame Isner for accepting the call, even if he knew/felt the ball was out. But the way he was mugging for the crowd to cheer for him & the way he celebrated after winning the match? I did not look kindly on that at all. Apparently, he was doing some kind of dance in honor of his home football team? This is one more reason why I am not always a fan of these dances. I agree, “more restraint/sheepishness” would def have been respectful toward the opponent and the situation.

      • queridorafa says:

        Oh, the mugging drove me crazy! I was like, since when is John Isner Australian?? To me it was obnoxious–there’s a time and place for that, and that wasn’t it, imo.
        Just saw JW did address the controversy in today’s mailbag…better late than never, I suppose!

        • mariposaxprs says:

          Just checked out JW’s mailbag! I’m glad he addressed some of the factors that we don’t always acknowledge, but that come into play when an umpire’s decision is made. I still don’t understand the perception of Nalby being so unpopular. The only person who is allowed to hate Nalby is DelPo, y’hear?! 😉

  2. Pingback: Australian Open: R2 Drama & Highlights | mariposaxprs

  3. Arienna Lee says:

    Poor David! I really don’t understand all the press confusion over this one. The Ump made a mistake, plain an simple. The crowd was deafening, it looked like Isner didn’t even hear the overrule because he tried to challenge… Nalbandian *clearly* didn’t understand what had happened and as soon as he got it, he tried to challenge. Where is Nalby the bad guy in this one? And I stayed up way past my bedtime only to be frustrated!

    Too bad, because I’ve liked Kader in the past–in the minimal way that fans “like” Umps other than Mo. Feli v. Nalby would have been way more interesting than Isner/Feli. Just saying.

    • mariposaxprs says:

      I don’t understand! The umpire made a clear mistake. It’s so irritating, the number of headlines that start with “Nalbandian furious at umpire…” or “Nalbandian calls umpire “stupid…”” How about a proper headline, like “Umpire Kader Nouni fluffs an important call…” or “Kader: What is He Good For? Absolutely Nothing.”

      Kader has a nice voice and he’s def one of the more charismatic umpires. I just question his judgment big-time. Feli vs. Nalby would have been so lovely to watch. Feli’s serve & volleying and Nalby’s touch at the net? Sigh. Yea, I like Mo too! The thing I like best about Mo is that he has the player’s greater good in mind—so he usually tries to stop them from becoming overly agitated, whereas Kader was just a stone-wall. Kader’s on my black list now! There’s a list!

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