In the most important moment of an ongoing epic match against Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic went after chair umpire Pascal Maria for not taking the time to water the court.
Djokovic lodged the complaint on the changeover just before he served at 7-8 in the fifth set. Once play resumed, without the court having been watered, Djokovic was broken at love and Nadal won the incredible 4 hour, 37 minute match 64, 36, 61, 67(3), 97.
But why was Djokovic so adamant on getting the court watered at such a critical juncture instead of simply concentrating on the upcoming service game? Here’s what he said:
I spoke to supervisor after the match, and from his understanding it’s well, I was told on the court grounds people are the ones making final decision, and supervisor tells me he’s the one who makes final decision on condition of court. It’s a confusing situation, really.
I was not asking to water the court because I want to make my opponent trip or do something like that, you know. I was doing it for myself, because I felt that it got very dry and it was very slippery.
There was also a lot of wind throughout the whole match, so the wind was taking out the clay from the court. I thought I made a right argument at the time.
And then I was basically on every changeover from 4-3 in the fifth asking, you know, how long are we really going to play? Because they couldn’t really tell me. They say, Okay, we’re not going to do it for a while. But why?
In the end, supervisor tells me, yes, I go to the grounds people and I talk to them, and then, you know, I can’t make a decision if one player is saying yes, the other is saying no.
So it’s very relative in the end, you know. Like whose opinion has more value, really? And I respect all the people, grounds people. They have been taking care of this court for many years, no question about it. I’m not questioning their input on that.
But if I’m asking them to water the court, it would take another 30 seconds or one minute on the changeover, and I believe it would change a lot because it would not be as dry and not as slippery. Like, this in my opinion: was too slippery. Difficult to change direction, you know, okay. I just don’t understand. That’s it. I think that it’s wrong what they did.
The slipperier and drier the court the greater benefit to Nadal. Novak was in the right to request a watering especially since the set had gone past 6-6 (courts do get water after end of sets), but to do it at that moment may have been a misstep by Novak.
By watering the court Novak can get greater footing and Rafa would in theory lose some of the bite and bounce to his groundstrokes.
Nadal, however, wasn’t for watering the court at that time but had they done it, he admitted he would have been okay with it.
“I don’t see normally in the middle of the set putting water on the court on clay,” Rafa said. “I didn’t see that in the past. And I watch Novak asking for that. I don’t feel it was slippery. But everybody is free to ask the things. Is completely great. Is completely right that Novak ask for that. I didn’t want water on court.
“The umpire asked me if I want water on court. I say not. Seems like the rule I didn’t know nothing about that but seems like the rule is both players had to be agree on put water on the court if it’s in the middle of one set. So I just receive question from the umpire, and I say, I prefer not. But if they put water, I would not say nothing against.”
Djokovic agreed it was an incredible match and he credited Nadal, who he has never beaten at Roland Garros, for the victory.
“It’s been an unbelievable match to be part of, but all I can feel now is disappointment,” Novak said Friday. “That’s it.
“I congratulate my opponent, because he showed the courage in the right moments and went for his shots, and, you know, when he was break down in the fifth he made some incredible shots from the baseline.
“I congratulate him, because that’s why he’s a champion. That’s why he’s been ruling Roland Garros for many years, and for me it’s another year.”
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