Monte Carlo: DelPo Loses in a Cloud of Controversy to Nieminen

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:

Photo: Reuters/Eric Gaillard

Photo: Reuters/Eric Gaillard

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:

Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina leaves the court after being defeated by Jarkko Nieminem of Finland during the Monte Carlo Masters in Monaco

Photo: Reuters/Eric Gaillard

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).

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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8 Responses to Monte Carlo: DelPo Loses in a Cloud of Controversy to Nieminen

  1. I didn’t get to watch any of the MC matches this year (timezone issues grrr), so thanks for the recaps! Besides, we all know Portugal Open is where it’s at! (also, I hope we get more random photo shots like last years bike ride haha!)

    Ehh, I didn’t see the MTO obviously, but the whole “controversy” is so annoying. How many tennis peeps were so adamantly defending a certain someone when he took a MTO during a tiebreaker at Wimbledon against DelPo? And honestly, removing my Delpo!fangirl colored glasses here as well, I feel like DelPo is one of the rare top 10 players that can honestly lose against a lower ranked player. He doesn’t go into post match interviews talking about how he just played awful, he doesn’t admit to an injury problem (even when its obvious there is some injury concern), he doesn’t just retire/give up…It just seems kind of unfair that people would go after him for a moment like this, but whatever. I’ve come to realize in the tennis fandom world, there is just a different set of rules for three certain players versus the rest. I don’t know if its because they’ve just amassed a huge array of fans, which tends to drown out contrary viewpoints, or if they’re just so talented that it’s just hard to judge them clearly, but yeah…

    I’m kind of glad Nadal’s reign at MC came to an end. I want the spoils of the clay court season spread around a little bit more. 🙂

    • mariposaxprs says:

      Given DelPo’s showing there this year, the lukewarm interest in MC may have been a good thing!

      That said, I’m baffled by DelPo’s losses this year — compared to last year (and the year before that, even) he’s racking up quite a few losses to players he should be beating. Then again, he compensated somewhat for that with his deep run at IW (which he came *so* close to winning). I guess we’re due for a much more volatile yr, when it comes to DelPo in 2013? Yikes.

      I don’t think that’s such a terrible thing though. Maybe a slight dose of volatility is what his game needs to challenge the top players on the big stages (I’d argue that this “volatility” was the element that was sorta lacking in his game until the London Olympics last yr). We’ll have to see what this next stretch of the clay season brings.

      I really hope he can defend the Portugal Open! Did you know that the Portugal Open has an iPhone app this year? They’re going big-league! They’ll also be televised on Eurosport, which is apparently a rarity for non-Slam events in tennis. I hope DelPo can step up to the spotlight here! He’s enjoyed so much success here and I would certainly like to see another bike ride from him there 😀

      I def agree with you about the reactions to his MTO-request during his QF against Nieminen. On one hand, I agree that it was definitely an unexpected happening. If I took off my “DelPo fan goggles” and examined him like any other plyr, I’d agree that his actions during the TB were def unusual. He has some explaining to do.

      Then again, this is why I still can’t understand the Rafa fans who proclaim to the end that his call for an MTO during the TB at Wimbledon was “absolutely normal.” They could say it was abnormal but still within the rules. But to say it was completely normal? Nah, I’m not buying it!

      In any case, Uncle Toni said he thought it was great when Novak lost to DelPo at IW (the implication being that it’s easier for Rafa to defeat DelPo). Whether or not that’s true, I think it’s in bad taste for Toni to publicly say something like that. In that sense, I’m glad that Rafa lost to Novak at the MC final. If Rafa thinks Novak is the ultimate goal, well then, let Rafa work toward it! I can’t say I mind, although I hope the clay season spoils are still more spread out between the top plyrs!

  2. Candy says:

    While I don’t think Delpo should get an MTO at that point because I don’t think his injury was acute enough to get an MTO during a TB (I don’t know how acute it was but at least he was able to play on), but I don’t think he wanted to take it in the attempt to break Jarkko’s rhythm. It’s simply he felt the pain and wanted to get a treatment. Even if he led, say, 5-2, he would still want to take an MTO at that moment. There would be “less dramatic” if he’s winning instead of trailing. But still, it was a weird time to take an MTO.

    Anyway, I was sad Delpo lost. But Jarkko played really well. Delpo is always a slow player. Hope he will get better and better. But his serve has been so bad for quite a while. Not just this tournament or last tournament. His bad serve always irritates me this year.

    Will Delpo overtake Berdy next week in the rankings? Or my maths goes wrong?

    • mariposaxprs says:

      I agree. Watching the TB again, I don’t think DelPo made a conscious attempt to break Jarkko’s rhythm. In a way, I think DelPo was only thinking of himself at the moment during the TB. He felt pain in his right quadriceps and so he wanted a trainer visit. While the timing of the requested MTO was not ideal, I don’t think he was trying to “cheat” in order to gain an advantage. Also, DelPo called for the trainer right before his serve in the TB (if he called for the trainer before Jarkko was serving, that would’ve been unfair). He was probably unaware of how it might look like to outside observers.

      DelPo’s performance at MC was a bit of a mixed bag. I liked that he was hitting his BHs better, but he has to be a bit less sloppy with his point construction. And he needs to work on his serves too! (they’ve been a major weakness this week). Hopefully, he’ll get into his comfort zone at the Portugal Open this year.

      From what I know, DelPo will still be behind Berdy in the rankings (I’m not 100% sure but I think the difference in pts is now reduced to 10). The frustrating part is, everytime DelPo has a chance to overtake Berdy in the rankings, he ends up falling short (Madrid SF last yr, etc). Hopefully, he’ll be able to take over no. 6 soon enough. He’ll have to be more consistent this year though….

      Still, many positive things to look forward to!

      • somesuch says:

        I agree that he was probably only thinking of his injury at that moment and not how it would look to take an MTO that late in 3rd set TB – and maybe then the booing from the crowd woke him up to that and that’s why he decided to continue playing without waiting for the trainer?

        • mariposaxprs says:

          It certainly seems possible that that’s what happened. The fact that the trainer wasn’t available right away may also have gotten DelPo to decide against an MTO. I don’t think he gave a presser after the match, so it’s tough to find any more information about it.

      • Candy says:

        After a year of Delpo being very consistent (usually made R16/ QF or further at every tourneys he played), it’s frustrating to see him being so volatile this year. But I believe in your “volatility theory”. He lost in early round to lower ranked players at some tournaments, but hey, he won in Rotterdam and made final (& almost won) at IW. So we’ve just got to get used to his “volatility”, then we will see him in SF (or further) at GS(s). *anti-jinx* 😉

        I’m curious what activity the Portugal Open has arranged for Delpo. They had made Delpo play football and go biking. Maybe play golf this year? Or go canoeing/ rowing/ sailing/ swimming? They’ve got to show us the sea, right? 🙂

        • mariposaxprs says:

          It’s def a frustrating change from his 2012 (and even his 2011) season. So far in 2013, DelPo has 4 losses to players ranked below him. He only had 3 losses to lower-ranked players in 2012.

          I think he’s at a real crossroads right now: If he played more consistently while pulling off upsets at big tournaments, he could make a play for the top 4. On the other hand, can he manage that, given his injury concerns? It seems like DelPo’s season in 2013 is starting to resemble what a Tsonga or Berdy would do during a “normal” season — as in, big upsets followed by surprising losses. It’s a tradeoff, but I’m curious to see what DelPo can make of the extra volatility this yr.

          Based on his performance at IW, I think he still has an edge over Tsonga/Berdy, in the sense that he can pull off more than one upset over a top plyr. No one has really done that since Berdy at Wimbledon ’10 (Berdy beat Fed and Novak in succession, only to fall meekly to Rafa in the final, whereas DelPo still challenged Rafa). The players in the no. 5-8 category rarely provide linear story lines, but the hope is that DelPo can gain a bit more consistency. Esp on clay! I do hope DelPo can finally push past Berdy for no. 6. It would be a purely symbolic step forward, but it’d be nice if he could manage it.

          Personally, I would love to see DelPo go canoeing! 🙂 He wouldn’t need paddles, he could just row the whole canoe with his arms!

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