Dubai: DelPo Wrestles with Time Violation Rule, Loses in Straights to Djokovic

In the SF, DelPo lost in straight sets 6-3 7-6(4) to Djokovic.

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Photo: Dubai Duty Free Championships

Overall, DelPo had too many errors, especially off his FH side.  Against a player with Djokovic’s retrieval capabilities, DelPo needed to be serving well and hitting his FH at its best.  Djokovic did well to win points by breaking down DelPo’s BH as well.  DelPo’s BH, even at its best, will always be exposed to Djokovic.

DelPo’s court positioning also left him open to Djokovic’s BHDTL, a problem he has faced against Brands and Devvarman this week.

Although DelPo had GP at 2*-3 in the 1st set, Djokovic hit a nice BHDTL to save.  DelPo followed that up with a string of errors and he gave away the break, 2-4*.  Djokovic served out the first set, 6-3.

In the 2nd set, DelPo started strong with a hold, and and then broke Djokovic after gaining 3 BPs.  He consolidated for 3-0* after hitting hitting a TREMENDOUS BH slice lob.  At this point in the match, DelPo had found his rhythm and he was hitting better off his BH side.  The depth of his shots did the trick of putting Djokovic off-balance.  However, he faced BP at 3*-1.  While he was in the middle of his service motion (he was just about to start the ball toss), he got called for a time violation by the chair umpire.  DelPo got angry and he had a long conversation with the ump.  The crowd got into it, as they loudly jeered the time warning.  Straight afterwards, DelPo missed a first serve and was promptly broken back.

Curiously enough, the total length of time DelPo took to argue with the umpire took far more time than the 2-3 extra seconds he may have taken on his serve.  For the next couple of games after the time warning, DelPo seemed to spite the umpire by taking even more time with his serve.  Call it a strange and self-defeating form of brinkmanship; it was definitely uncomfortable to watch and it was a somewhat unbecoming reaction from DelPo.  Momentum, Djokovic.

The umpire’s call did play a role in the match, as DelPo’s focus seemed rattled by the time violation and the subsequent break.  Djokovic then broke DelPo’s serve again, as he ended up winning four straight games to go up 5-3* in the 2nd set (From 1-3).

At the same time, I object to those who say DelPo “lost his head” over that time violation.  DelPo “lost his head” last year at IW against Fed, when he couldn’t challenge because of a Hawk-Eye malfunction (on a call that umpire Mo should have overruled).  At Dubai this year, he was rattled but his head was still in the match.  Keep in mind, Djokovic has a tendency to play well after trailing in a match, which is something to account for — Djokovic may well have found a way to come back from behind anyway, regardless of the time violation.  While DelPo was unhappy with the time warning, he did not “give away the match” right after he received the time warning.

Sure enough, DelPo broke Djokovic (when the latter was serving for the match) to level the 2nd set at 5-5.  In this sense, DelPo was able to assert himself after the earlier incident, although he ultimately lost the match.  The match went to a TB, which Djokovic won 7-4, to secure his place in the final.


Presser Quotes:

Many of the post-match presser questions centered on the time violation in the 2nd set.  To his credit, DelPo ultimately took responsibility for the time violation and any losses he incurred as a result of it:

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Still, as an aside, he gave his two cents:

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That last quote is “so DelPo.”

The full quotes can be found at Sport360.  Djokovic agreed with DelPo and said the umpire should have given a heads-up before issuing the warning.  He said, “I don’t know exactly if the chair umpire gave him (del Potro) an unofficial verbal warning before that.  If he didn’t, then I don’t agree with (the umpire’s) decision obviously.”


Thoughts about the stricter enforcement of the time violation:

Prior to Dubai, DelPo received 4 time violations at Rotterdam. He is clearly one of the players who will struggle to adapt to stricter enforcement of the rule. While DelPo is timely with his first serves, he tends to test the 25-second rule after long rallies. This is something he will need to change this year.  DelPo’s rap sheet is by no means squeaky clean when it comes to observing time.

While DelPo is at fault for his time violation, I have to say that the first two months of the season have shown areas where the ATP needs to clarify their stricter enforcement of the rule.  Some points to consider:

  • The general reaction to DelPo’s time violation was varied.  Annabel Croft and Brad Gilbert said it was an outrageous call that clearly changed the rhythm of the match.  They called for shot clocks to be placed on court, for transparency reasons — with a shot clock, at least players and spectators would be aware of how much time has passed and more importantly, when “time starts.”
  • At the other end of the debate, there were fans who said this time violation was a good sign of the umpires strictly enforcing the rule.  However, fans who support stricter time enforcement are generally still in favor of umpire discretion after long rallies.  Yet DelPo’s time violation happened after a rally, when he was facing BP — which begs the question, where does this fall on the discretion spectrum?
  • This is where the time violation rule gets murky: People want strict enforcement of the time rule, but they still want umpire discretion after long rallies or late in the 5th set.  Yet umpire discretion is the very reason why the time rule was never enforced in the past.  Also, umpire discretion introduces a variable into the equation that, in my eyes, is the very reason why this rule is so controversial.  Sometimes, the difference between “a long rally” and “an easy point” is lost on the umpire.  What’s cool for Carlos Bernardes may not be cool with Alison Lang.  Maybe it’d make more sense if there were a specific rule stating that chair umpires grant 3 extra seconds after a minimum 20-shot rally.  That way, an objective and observable metric is introduced, which makes it easier for everyone to accept any time violation that is given.  Also, such a rule would provide umpires with the data they need to back up their enforcement of the time rule.  It’s a lot like Hawk-Eye: While Hawk-Eye is not completely foolproof, it’s the accepted measure for whether a ball was in or out.  It provides players (and fans) with a sense of calm, as they no longer have to question whether or not human folly robbed them of a call.  They can’t rant against Hawk-Eye.  If there were a “20-shot minimum” rule for extra time, my guess is players wouldn’t rant so much at time violations either.
  • Ever since the strict enforcement of the time rule was announced, I’ve seen umpires advise players about time during the changeover (along the lines of, “Be careful, you’re taking too long”).  In DelPo’s match against Djokovic, the umpire went straight to issuing a time violation.  In their pressers, DelPo and Djokovic both said they expected an unofficial heads-up from the ump before a formal time violation is called.  Perhaps the ATP would do well to make clear whether an umpire’s informal warning to a player will precede a time violation. 
  • On a completely different but still related note, both Jaziri and Berdych had instances in Dubai where they received time violations, on account of the ball kids taking too much time.  While many laughed at Berdy’s suggestion to “teach the ball boys to be quicker,” I think he has a point.  Players should not be held accountable for any time lags created by the ball kids, especially when the difference between 23 seconds and 27 seconds is at stake.  The ATP needs to standardize and tighten up their training for ball kids, to ensure that they’re not the ones creating the 2-3 second delay.

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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