It’s a rare sight to see one of men’s tennis’ big three significantly lose their cool on court.
But it’s exactly the spectacle a packed Rod Laver Arena experienced on Wednesday night as Rafael Nadal locked horns with French chair umpire Aurelie Tourte on his way out of the Australian Open at the hand of Dominic Thiem.
Despite denying reporters’ suggestions after the match that he was agitated, Nadal was clearly feeling the heat on a balmy night at Melbourne Park, and Tourte only seemed to turn up the pressure on the Spaniard.
It started late in the first set when Tourte warned Nadal about the amount of time he was taking between points.
Nadal clashes with chair umpire
The Spaniard was less than impressed, explaining to the umpire as sweat gushed off his body that the sweltering conditions were taking their toll.
“It’s like I’m in the shower,” Nadal could be heard saying over the court mic.
“I can’t get there that easily.”
The world No.1 was clearly labouring after dropping the first set, falling back into his lengthy pre-point habits, a behaviour that has polarised some sections of the tennis community. And Tourte was largely unrelenting, issuing Nadal a time violation midway through the second.
“It’s really amazing that after this point, you are able to put a chrono straight (service clock), it’s really amazing,” Nadal said as he marched up to the umpire.
“You don’t like the good tennis, you don’t like the good tennis.”
While the Spaniard’s lengthy service has been an issue of contention, tennis great Jim Courier said he could empathise.
“The chair umpire is the one who decides when that shot clock starts. It is when she calls the score. What Nadal is saying is, ‘you should recognise how much exertion we put into these two points and give us some leeway’, and he’s right,” Courier said.
Australian tennis legend Todd Woodbridge added the umpire had “no feel for the game”.
From then on, the tension radiating from the world No.1 was undeniable.
“He is distracted. Clearly that time violation has rattled him,” Courier said.
“He feels that he has been jobbed and the chair umpire should have realised how those two points were extraordinarily physical in a row.”
Nadal then had to have his court-side air conditioning unit replaced after multiple complaints that it was not working throughout the first two sets.
“Rafa is not comfy court-side,” Courier said.
Rafael Nadal v Dominic Thiem: AO Highlights
“They’ve just had a complete replacement of his air conditioning fan unit. So hopefully that is up and working for him.”
It wasn’t the last of the Mallorca products grievances, as he sensationally clashed with Tourte for a third time in the final set when she refused to let him challenge an ace.
“I am there (pointing to beyond the baseline) and I do not have time to get there to check it,” Nadal said to Toute.
Tourte’s decision left Courier and Woodbridge baffled.
“This is really going to irritate him. He is not having it,” Courier said.
“Surely he’s allowed to go look at the mark. That’s ridiculous. He walked straight there to go look at it.”