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.
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.