TEBBUTT: A MATTER OF DISPUTE
Officiating in any sport is an imperfect art, and Vasek Pospisil had an up-close and personal encounter with that reality during the completion of his US Open first-round match on Tuesday.
At 10-all in the fifth set tiebreak, his opponent Rogerio Dutra Silva of Brazil returned a serve and the ball seemed to land long and was called out by the linesperson.
At that point, umpire Mohamed El Jennati of Morocco decided to intervene and over-rule, declaring that the ball had landed good. Pospisil was astounded by El Jennati’s decision.
He vigorously protested but he wasn’t going to get anywhere and resigned himself to replaying the point. After a rally, he missed a forehand just wide and then lost the match on the following point when he popped a backhand volley wide of an open court.
Leaving the court, Pospisil had harsh words for El Jennati as he walked past his chair leaving the court. Asked about the ‘controversy,’ he declared, “there’s no controversy, just a clear mistake by the umpire, a huge mistake. The ball was two or three inches long (see top). I mean there was no doubt about anything. I’m turning and he’s over-ruling and calling it in. Something has to be done about a mistake like that. At 10-all in the fifth set tiebreak, to over-rule on the baseline is absolutely terrible.”
There were lots of side stories to the match, none more important than that Pospisil held seven match points – three when he had Dutra Silva at love-40 when the Brazilian served at 5-6 in the final set, and four more in the ensuing tiebreak.
“It’s a disappointing end for sure,” Pospisil said about the denouement. “I had the match in my hands more than once and let it slip.”
It was a heart-breaker for Pospisil, who was pretty well inconsolable in his post-match media conference. But there definitely were chances on the match points – a poor backhand service return in the net at 9-8 in the tiebreak and a nervy forehand wide at 10-9 were obvious golden opportunities in a match that finally ended 4-6, 3-6, 7-6(9), 6-2, 7-6(10) for the 29-year-old Brazilian qualifier.
Referring back to the over-rule at 10-10, Pospisil said, “I heard the linesperson call the ball out and I would have been shocked if they hadn’t because the ball was clearly out. I was in a state of shock, anger. I’ve never experienced an over-rule like that at such a stage in a match, especially in a Grand Slam. That doesn’t excuse the opportunities I didn’t convert leading up to that point but that would have been another match point – maybe I would have gotten that one.”
Tuesday’s play was a resumption of the match postponed by rain on Monday night with Pospisil (his support group is above) leading two sets to one but trailing 4-0 in the fourth set.
He broke serve to 3-2 in the third set and then held a 4-2 lead and served for the match at 5-4. But by that time he was feeling the effects of a very humid afternoon and evening. “I was tired,” Pospisil admitted on Tuesday about the late-going in the third set. “Yesterday was so humid, I sweated through about eight shirts. I was completely drained and at the end of the third set I stopped serving well.
“I had nothing in my legs and I could feel that my body was going downhill and obviously early in the fourth set that showed and I couldn’t move and I went into full cramps. But I felt better today (Tuesday) for sure. The match just didn’t go my way.
“The cramps started in my legs and they were just going everywhere to my wrist, both legs, both quads, right hamstring – basically I couldn’t move.
“I think it was because I was completely depleted on electrolytes – when I play in humid conditions it’s something that’s always a danger for me. Yesterday was so humid, in the third game of the first set I was sweating all over the court and I was slipping on my own sweat already. That was not a good sign right from the start.
“Maybe I need to find a better solution, find out what I’m losing on the court because physically in hot and dry conditions I feel like I can go seven sets. I don’t feel like it’s a physical issue – it’s obviously something that I’m missing mineral wise.”
It was a missed occasion because Pospisil would have played Rafael Nadal in the second round. In fact, if he had managed to finish off Dutra Silva on Monday, he was definitely slated for a Wednesday night match in Arthur Ashe Stadium against the Spaniard.
“I put a little bit of extra pressure on myself, I wanted to play Rafa in the second round,” he admitted. “That maybe tied my hands a little bit. That’s something you can’t really do – you can’t look forward. You’ve got to go one match at a time. There’s no doubt I didn’t take my chances and I didn’t get lucky either. That’s just the way it goes.”
Asked if he was still diminished on Tuesday after having an ice bath and not leaving the tournament site on Monday night until 1 a.m. on Tuesday, Pospisil said, “I felt like that if I wasn’t struggling physically I would have closed him out in three sets. I think that I was the better player 90 per cent of the time. I definitely gave him an opportunity because he got two quick sets basically for free. Then anything can happen in the fifth set – it’s adrenaline and crowd and he’s playing for his second round showing at the US Open.
“I didn’t go into cramps in the third set – but I was just feeling exhausted and I could just feel I would go into cramps soon. So, I took a long bathroom break. I don’t know if that was the right move or not. I was getting tired and I wasn’t getting up on my serve and I stopped making my serves in the third set.”
I spoke briefly to Dutra Silva and he said about the 10-all in the tiebreak controversy, “actually there was noise from the crowd and I didn’t hear the call from the umpire. But I just play and try to win. I just did my job. I’m happy to win today and enjoy the second round – the third year in a row.”
He added that playing Nadal would be “an unbelievable experience. I’m 29 but I feel like I’m young. I played against Djokovic last year and to play this year against Nadal is unbelievable for my career and my experience.”
Asked about what made the difference in the two-day match that lasted a total of just over four hours, he answered, “no idea. I didn’t think about the seven match points. Yesterday I was too confused because I was actually near to win the match and it starts to rain. To be seven match points down and win this match was unbelievable.”
To add some perspective here, I have spoken to several people (from Canada, France etc.) about the umpire of Tuesday’s match – Mohamed El Jennati – and the general consensus is that he is not one of the tour’s finest. Let’s leave it at that.
For now, Pospisil will play doubles with Daniel Nestor – they are unseeded and will play Mahesh Bhupathi and Philipp Petschner in their opening round.