In the event that the opposition cannot halt Rafael Nadal’s imperious progress towards his tenth French Open title, the umpires appear to have volunteered for the job.
Carlos Ramos, fresh from his dust-up with Novak Djokovic on Friday (the Portuguese umpire did not like Djokovic’s “attitude from the baseline”; Djokovic told Ramos he was “losing his mind”), took on the might of Nadal while the Spaniard was marmalising Roberto Bautista Agut 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. And Nadal did not like it, not one little bit.
Never the quickest of players between points, Nadal, pictured, often falls foul of the 20-second rule at grand slams. On the regular tour, players are given 25 seconds between points; at the four major tournaments, that is reduced to 20 seconds. Either way, Nadal’s full range of tics and twitches takes much longer than that as he prepares to serve.
Ramos picked him up on this in the first set and then docked Nadal a first serve at the start of the third set for taking too long yet again. Riled after the first warning, Nadal gave his tormentor a piece of his mind.
“You will have to give me many more warnings in this match,” Nadal growled, “because you won’t be in the chair again [when I am playing].”
As Nadal explained later: “He is an umpire I have had a lot of problems with in the past. After the first game, he put pressure on me and we are playing best-of-five on clay which is the hardest surface. Then you have to give some leeway to the players. He is an umpire who is always pushing me. I have respect for him and I ask that it is given back.”
Before and after matches, Nadal has huge respect for all of his rivals; it is just on the court that he does not think twice about crushing them in body and spirit. He is now into the quarter-finals at Roland Garros and yet he has only dropped 20 games in four rounds. Next in his firing line is Pablo Carreno Busta who outlasted Milos Raonic, the No 5 seed, 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 8-6. It took four hours and 17 minutes and Carreno Busta needed seven match points to close out the win – and at the end of all of that, all he gets is a potential pummelling by the nine-time champion tomorrow.
Dominic Thiem, who has the distinction of being the only man to beat Nadal on clay this year (it was in Rome in the quarter-finals), breezed into the last eight, taking 100 neat minutes to beat Horacio Zeballos 6-1, 6-3, 6-1. Yet to drop a set and quietly building up a head of steam, the Austrian must find a way to beat Djokovic for the first time in his career if he is to reach his second successive Roland Garros semi-final.
Djokovic, meanwhile, kept the defence of his title alive with a 7-6, 6-1, 6-3 win over Albert Ramos-Vinolas.
After a distinctly shaky start – Ramos-Vinolas looked far more confident than his more famous foe – Djokovic got his teeth into the first-set tiebreak, cruised through the second and then had to fight for all he was worth in order to repel the Spaniard at the start of the third.
But he did it and, for the moment, he is still the champion of Roland Garros.