Unfair Advantage: Nadal And The MTO
It’s hard to speak out against Rafael Nadal. Lynn Barber found out just how hard when she wrote about the world number one in a negative light. “Why did no one warn me that being rude about Rafa Nadal is like being rude about prophet Mohammad? Terrifying hate mail from his worshippers,” she posted on Twitter. And she’s right; post a negative comment about Nadal on Twitter and you’re bound to get many replies aggressively disagreeing with your point. Even Roger Federer isn’t this off-limits; fans have learnt to deal with accusations of arrogance and bad sportsmanship over time. Yet whilst Nadal may tick all the boxes when it comes to sportsmanship and humbleness off-court, his medical time outs (MTO) have raised suspicions. In particular, Nadal’s latest ill-timed MTO hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Having saved a set point when serving at 5-6 in the first set, Juan Martin del Potro looked focussed and ready to give his all in the tiebreak. That is until Nadal ran to his seat, swiftly accompanied by a trainer. Nine minutes later (three times the legal allowance) del Potro was angry, confused, and completely distracted. Despite taking a mini-break lead on two occasions, del Potro failed to stay focussed and lost the set to Nadal. Nadal’s foot, which supposedly hurt so much Nadal believed it was broken, was suddenly Ok. Nadal showed no further sign of injury and ran down del Potro’s best shots to win 7-6 3-6 7-6 6-4. By the end of the match, it was del Potro who looked worn-out and barely able to move. The usually reserved del Potro expressed his anger after the match, saying “He was running everywhere and running the same as always. I never thought he’d stop.”
Dodgy MTOs called for at crucial times in matches are nothing new for Nadal. He upset Phillip Petzschner last year at Wimbledon; the German lost focus and his two set to one lead when Nadal called for a trainer before the Petzschner serve. Nadal called for a trainer at 2-5 down against Federer with Federer serving during this year’s Roland Garros final and proceeded to win the set. This was nothing new for Federer, Nadal had done the same thing at Monte Carlo 2006 and Hamburg 2008 with the same result: Federer blowing a substantial lead. His medical time out’s are frequent and often seemingly unnecessary. Yet Nadal seems largely immune to criticism from journalists and fans. Players like Fabio Fognini are heavily criticised when they attempt something similar, but Nadal gets away largely scot-free.
Although Nadal’s actions seem largely unfair, it’s hard to say exactly what tennis can do about Nadal’s MTOs. What Nadal does is more unsportsmanlike than illegal, so umpires can’t put a stop to it, (unlike Nadal’s time wasting, which they are well within their right to punish). It’s easy to say players need to learn to expect MTOs when leading Nadal and deal with them better, but that has to be easier to say than do. It is therefore up to players and journalists to let Nadal know his actions are unacceptable. Much like del Potro, certain bloggers, and some brave writers have heaped scorn upon his abuse of the rules. Perhaps with further criticism, Nadal will put a stop to what some people have gone as far to call cheating. It seems at least part of the tennis community is starting to see through the world number one.