Andy Murray’s meltdown against Novak Djokovic in today’s Sony Open quarter-final was not entirely his fault. The umpire had something to do with it, too. After all, umpires are supposed to keep matches under control and ensure fair play rules when the players think otherwise. But just as Murray is not alone in having an on-court meltdown, the umpire in that match is not alone in making mistakes. Here is a top five list of the biggest mistakes in tennis umpiring, in no particular order.
No. 1: Andy Murray versus Novak Djokovic, Sony Open quarter-finals, 2014. Murray, now ranked 6 after back surgery, was playing well in the match, holding his own with the world no.2 and recent winner in Indian Wells. Serving at 5-6, 0-0, the set looked set to go to a tiebreaker. Djokovic got off to a better start in the twelfth game, coming in to end the point at the net. Except he did more than just get the ball over the net-he got his racket on the net, too. Which tennis players are not supposed to do. And it is the kind of thing that the umpire, sitting over the net, is paid to see. But the umpire did not see, and Murray did not let him forget it, arguing with him at several changeovers. Murray could forget his chances in the match, though, as the meltdown took its toll and he lost the match as well as his head.
No. 2: Serena Williams versus Jennifer Capriati, US Open quarter-finals, 2004. This match is the reason tennis has hawk-eye. Serena Williams was coming back from injury and ready for battle. Jennifer Capriati was ready, too, her career winding down, a much wanted US Open title still on her things to do list. Quite the competitor for Serena. But Serena would be competing against two people that night, Capriati and umpire Maria Alves. In the third set, a Serena backhand down the line return landed in, but the umpire overruled. Serena could not believe her ears but she could believe her eyes, replays later proving her to be right. But she did not get the right result as Capriati went on to take the match.
No. 3: Serena Williams versus Kim Clisters, US Open semi-finals, 2009. The call here, made by a line umpire, may not have been a mistake, but the timing certainly was: 15-30 with Serena serving at 4-5 down, a set down. The line umpire called a foot fault making it match point Clijsters. The entire stadium froze as Serena cast a look the line umpire’s way. Then the expletives came. And the drama. Serena yelled at the line umpire, the now infamous Shino Tsurubuchi, she wanted to stick the ball down her throat. Shino complained to the umpire. Serena then told her off for complaining. And because Serena had already earlier received a code violation, she was penalized the point for abuse, and lost the match. The subsequent controversy came not just from Serena’s actions. No one thought Serena’s reaction was right, but whether or not calling a foot-fault at such a crucial point in a match was right, either, was definitely up for question. The call and the default overshadowed the tennis, never a positive for a sport at one of its biggest events.
No. 4: John Isner vs Nalbandian, Australian open 2nd round, 2012. Two sets all, 8 games all, advantage Nalbandian. Matches cannot be much closer, and a break point on the Isner serve is an opportunity hard to get close to. Isner served. The lines judge called fault. The umpire, Kader Nouni, overruled and called deuce. Nalbandian then said he wanted to challenge, and was told he had taken too much time to make the challenge. Nalbandian was not happy, to put it mildly, would not let up, even calling on the tournament referee. But the officials, like Nalbandian would not give up. The Argentine, deflated by the drama, then lost the match, not so much giving up on it, but feeling he had been given up on. And he, unlike the umpire had been, was right.
No. 5: Roger Federer versus Juan-Martin Del Potro, US Open final, 2009. Roger Federer is not one to lose his cool or use colorful language but the umpire in this match managed to get him to do both The umpire let Del Potro take over the allocated time limit to challenge calls quite a few times until enough was enough for Roger. The Swiss felt he was not getting the same treatment time-wise on challenges, and, after another delayed but allowed Del Potro challenge, Federer let the umpire have a piece of his mind on the changeover. That piece of mind got quite colorful when the umpire told Federer to be quiet. Federer swore and then told the umpire he would talk when he wanted to. Federer, who had been in control of the match, leading two sets to one at one point, then found himself not just rattled by the umpire but by Del Potro’s huge ground-strokes and fearlessness. Federer not only lost his cool, he lost the match, too. Not the umpire’s fault but the mistake colored the match as much as Federer’s language, and not in an entertaining way. Not for Federer and his fans anyway. Del Potro and his fans might want to shake that umpire’s hand though.