In a closely fought match that featured entertaining rallies and mindblowing errors, Nieminen edged out DelPo in three sets. It’s the Friendly Finn’s first win over DelPo in five meetings and one of the best wins of his career. Looking back on the match, Nieminen truly battled his way to the win. Full credit to him for that. You can see what this victory meant to him:
Nieminen worked hard to avoid pigeon status as he won the first meeting between the two players in five attempts (this was their first meeting on clay). Nieminen is now 1-4 in the H2H. Although DelPo tried to find his legs on clay, he ultimately wasn’t able to summon his best form at the right moments:
DelPo served for the match at 5*-4 in the 3rd set, but he was unable to capitalize on his winning position. Nieminen, to his credit, played well throughout the match. There were quite a few entertaining rallies featuring defense and offense from both sides. However, DelPo was weak behind his serve (he’d been facing trouble with his serves against Dolgopolov as well). While DelPo stepped up his aggression as the match progressed (he constructed a fair number of beautiful points that finished at the net), he also made untimely errors that added to his frustrations. He will have to work on the timing of his FHs on clay. Nieminen played unexpectedly well and DelPo was not able to close out the match as he should have.
In the 3rd set TB at 4*-5 (before his serve), DelPo promptly walked to his chair and called for the trainer. There was a fair bit of confusion surrounding the incident.
Here’s what happened: DelPo called for the trainer. Chair umpire Gianluca Moscarella told DelPo that he would have to wait a few minutes for the trainer to arrive. Moscarella told DelPo that it was up to him, whether or not he wanted to stop play and wait the few minutes for the trainer to arrive. DelPo decided to forgo the trainer visit. He stepped out onto court and netted a BH. Nieminen gained 2 MPs. Nieminen won the match.
As is often the case, the actual version of events was far less dramatic than the colorful portrait various journalists had initially painted of the incident. First, there was the mistaken report that the umpire had “scolded” DelPo for requesting an MTO. Neil Harman went so far as to suggest that Gerry Armstrong’s grasp of British discipline had been the key factor in getting DelPo out of his chair. This was a fatuous notion at best. The discussion between DelPo and the umpire centered on whether or not DelPo wanted to stop the match in order to receive a trainer visit for his thigh. DelPo decided it’d be better to continue play. I’m not sure of DelPo’s exact reasoning behind that decision, but that was the decision he made. As commentator Nick Lester confirms, nobody scolded anyone. DelPo made the decision of his own accord. This is an important consideration.
The second misconception was that DelPo had called for the trainer due to cramps. This was not the case. DelPo had a right quadriceps injury. It’s completely within the rules to call for a trainer at any point in the match (as long as it’s not for cramping). Hence, DelPo’s call for the trainer was not an infraction of the rules. I’ve yet to see any evidence that supports the notion that DelPo was cramping. Many on Twitter had criticized DelPo’s call for the trainer, on the basis of their (mistaken) assumption that DelPo had called the trainer for cramping. This was not the case. As far as we know, it was an actual injury. DelPo did not give a presser after his match, so I have yet to find quotes from him about the incident. I will update this post later as I find them.
It’s important to clarify these details of what happened. After all, if you’re going to vilify someone, it’s better to get the details straight. It puts the “righteous” in self-righteous fury.
I fully concede that the optics are bad here. DelPo’s call for the trainer at 4*-5 in the TB was ill-timed. The suddenness with which he walked to his chair and sat down in the middle of a deciding TB was a jarring sight. The question of whether or not this incident was intentional (aka an attempt to break Nieminen’s rhythm) will henceforth be subject to endless debate. There’s no definitive answer that would satisfy all sides, short of DelPo flat-out saying that he’d called for an MTO to mess with Nieminen. Let’s be real, it’ll be a cold day in hell before that happens.
I am as critical as the next person when it comes to ill-timed MTOs and unexpected twists in a closely fought match. For the record, I’ve criticized Rafa’s ill-timed bathroom break during his ’12 IW SF, right before Fed served for the match. I was not a fan of the 10-minute long MTO Vika took during an important juncture in her match against Sloane Stephens at the AO this year. In that vein, I know DelPo’s call for a trainer during a 3rd set TB should be subject to questioning. It’s only fair.
That said, I hope those who do pass judgement on this incident take care not to get too swept up by the misconceptions that arose ( #1 DelPo was never scolded by anyone to continue playing and #2 He called for the trainer because of a quadriceps injury, not because of cramps).
Also important is the fact that DelPo does not have a history of this type of behavior. In accounting terms, DelPo has built up a fair amount of “accrued goodwill” over the years. While the incident at MC means his goodwill will take a minor hit on the Q2 2013 balance sheet, it’s still a minor aberration. After all, Nieminen won the match. DelPo would rightfully have been subject to more questioning had he taken the MTO and pulled through to win the match, but he lost the match. It’s the same reason why Rafa wasn’t subject to more questioning when he rushed off to the bathroom right before Fed served for the match at IW last year.
As for DelPo, he’ll have 10 days to rest the trouble to his right quadriceps before he begins his title defense at the Portugal Open. This past week, I’ve been bombarded with my fair share of images of yachts sailing in the Monte Carlo seas, but I will forever insist that there’s nothing that quite resembles the Estoril sealine!
While DelPo definitely needs to work on his serves on clay, one of the few positive signs from his showing at MC was his comfort in hitting his normal BH. While DelPo engaged in his fair share of BH slice battles against Nieminen, they didn’t look like the last-gasp efforts of a player suffering from wrist pain. This is a positive sign.
Other Monte Carlo News:
- On this day, DelPo, Muzz and Berdy all lost to lower seeds. Judging by the number of Rafa fans who suddenly came out in droves on Twitter to congratulate Nieminen after he won, you can be sure they’re fancying Rafa’s chances of winning yet another title at Monte Carlo. Nieminen should be glad to know he has the support of the Rafandom on his side when he plays Djokovic in the QF, though he should also be wary too, as a failure to put in a tough appearance in front of Djokovic could just as quickly earn him the scorn of the Rafandom. At this current time, Rafans are hanging on to their hopes of a Rafa-Jarkko final. It’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out.
- Rankings update: After MC, DelPo is now a mere 10 points behind Berdy in the rankings. Berdy has 600 points to defend at Madrid, while DelPo has 360 SF points. DelPo’s points at the Portugal Open will have no bearing on his ranking. However, no. 8-ranked Tsonga is starting to close in on the gap between him and DelPo. Tsonga faces Rafa in the MC SF. If Tsonga were to win MC, the gap between him and DelPo would be reduced to 235 points (from a >1,000 differential two weeks ago).