When Players Call Time on Umpire

By Clarey, Christopher | International New York Times, May 30, 2015 | Go to article overview

When Players Call Time on Umpire


Clarey, Christopher, International New York Times


Rules do not prohibit requests from players to work with different umpires, and such requests are not without precedent. Nor are they guaranteed to succeed.

The cooling-off period continued at the French Open.

Shortly after the nine-time champion Rafael Nadal played and won his second-round match against Nicolas Almagro, the Brazilian chair umpire Carlos Bernardes officiated a women's second-round match Thursday between Sloane Stephens and Heather Watson.

The rapprochement between Nadal, the tennis star, and Bernardes, a leading tennis umpire, might have taken place here in Paris, but that is no longer a possibility, now that the issues dividing them have become public.

Before the French Open, The Daily Telegraph reported that Bernardes had not worked any of Nadal's matches since their latest on-court disagreement at the Rio Open in February.

Nadal, in a particularly frank mood in Paris this year, then acknowledged after his first-round victory here that he had indeed asked that Bernardes not be assigned to his matches.

The reaction has ranged from consternation to a Gallic shrug.

Two of Nadal's chief rivals, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, said they had never made such a request. "I don't think that's fair to them," Djokovic said. "They do their job as best they can."

Jim Courier, the United States Davis Cup captain and former world No. 1, said he had never heard of a player "making a request to be segregated from an umpire" and was "quite surprised that the request was acceded to."

Courier added: "This is not a good precedent to set. Having said that, if I knew that I had the option to request time away from an umpire or two in my time on tour I would have used it quite often."

But Cedric Pioline, the former French star who played in Courier's era in the 1990s and early 2000s, said that the situation "doesn't surprise me at all."

Pioline said he had requested not to be assigned to a specific chair umpire during his career. "What surprises me in the case of Nadal is that the word got out," Pioline said.

The rules do not prohibit requests like Nadal's and, despite Courier's surprise, such requests are not without precedent. Nor are they guaranteed to succeed.

"It is not chair umpire a la carte, definitely not," Stefan Fransson, the French Open tournament referee, said in an interview Thursday. "There is the perception sometimes that if the player just says, I don't want an umpire, then it happens. That is not true, because if they say they don't want this official then we find out why they don't think they should have him, and we look into why he thinks so. We might agree. We might disagree."

In this unusually high-profile case -- which Fransson and other men's tennis officials were reluctant to discuss in detail -- there was clearly agreement within the ATP Tour, which operates independently from the four Grand Slam tournaments, that it was best for Nadal and Bernardes to take a break after Rio.

But it was also evident that putting Bernardes in the chair for a Nadal match at the French Open would do nothing more than inflame the situation.

"I don't really want to get too specific about the case, but it would not be good for anybody," Fransson said. "It wouldn't be good for Bernardes. …

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