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Photograph: Aaron Francis - AFP

Denis Shapovalov and Rafael Nadal played an epic five-set encounter in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open on Tuesday, yet it wasn’t the biggest story of the day.

Instead, it was the by-play between Shapovalov and chair umpire Carlos Bernades that stole the headlines.

After losing the first set 3-6, Shapovalov took his spot at the baseline, ready to serve to kickstart the second set. However, despite being afforded plenty of time already, the 20-time major winner was not ready to receive the Shapovalov serve - prompting the Canadian to approach Bernades.

“You started the clock so long ago, he’s still not ready to play,” Shapovalov said to chair umpire Bernades.

“You’ve got to code him.”

Shapovalov retreated to the baseline to get the set underway again, before being told by Bernades that he was taking too long to serve; igniting a fiery response from the Canadian.

“You’re not ready to play either,” Bernades said.

“What do you mean I’m not ready to play?” Shapovalov responded.

“You came to talk to me,” Bernades quipped.

“Are you kidding me? You guys are all corrupt,” Shapovalov said as he stormed back to the baseline.

“I think I misspoke when I said he's corrupt or whatever I said. It's definitely emotional but I do stand by my side. I think it's unfair, you know, how much Rafa is getting away with,” Shapovalov said.

“I mean, I'm completely ready to play and the clock is ticking 3, 2, 1, clicking towards zero, and I'm looking at the ump, and, you know, obviously I'm going to speak up and say something. I've been ready to play for a minute and a half, and he tells me he's not going to give him a code violation because I'm not ready to play. To me, it's a big joke if somebody says that.”

The match continued for a solitary game before Shapovalov was seen raising his arms at Bernades in disbelief. This time, he was waiting for Nadal to serve the ball - a lengthy process at the best of times.

Bernades took exception to this and reminded the Canadian that Nadal still had eight seconds left on the clock to serve the ball.

Channel Nine commentator Jim Courier moved to criticise Shapovalov, stating that he was out of line. Indeed, at the time it didn’t look quite right, but Shapovalov explained what was going on in his post-match press conference.

“Rafa was serving and I would expect the umpire to be looking at Rafa and the umpire was staring me down. It didn't make sense to me.

“Rafa is getting ready to serve, there's a clock right there, as an umpire you should be looking at the server. The guy is staring me down so I just looked at him like, Why are you looking at me?

“He was staring me down so I felt like there was some feud or something. I looked at him, you know.”

Moments after the altercation, Nadal met Shapovalov at the net to get a gauge on what was going on. The Canadian assured him it had nothing to do with him and the match continued.

It’s no secret that Nadal takes a lot of time to do, well, pretty much everything on court. Whether it’s organising his drink bottles, changing clothes multiple times a match or folding his towel perfectly over the advertising banners - Nadal operates to his own schedule.

As an opponent, it must be abhorrently frustrating. What must make it even more irritating for Nadal’s opponents is that they seem to be the only ones taking notice of it.

During a second-round loss to Nadal at Wimbledon in 2019, Nick Kyrgios unloaded on the Spaniard and the chair umpire for time-wasting. The situation was eerily similar to what Shapovalov was confronted with.

Kyrgios was made to wait the allotted 25 seconds and more by Nadal before he could serve the ball, prompting the Aussie to take issue with the umpire.

"I'm ready to serve, how long are we going to wait? I'm ready to serve the ball," Kyrgios told the umpire.

"Why do I have to wait for my serve? Why am I waiting? Why?”

Kyrgios was then made to wait for Nadal to have a bathroom break at the end of the opening set, sending his temper into overdrive.

"What is this stuff bro? Play the game, play the game. It's stupid," Kyrgios said.

"You guys (umpires) are the worst of the lot, you're so biased. Just kiss up to his bum, it's a joke.”

Back to the present, Shapovalov faced a similar situation when it came to a Nadal bathroom break.

After wrestling back momentum and taking the match to a fifth set, Nadal took a medical timeout at the end of the fourth to address a stomach issue.

There’s no problem with that of course, but Shapovalov wasn’t pleased that Nadal was allowed a bathroom break immediately after the medical timeout - something he was denied at the 2021 Australian Open.

“Last year I wasn't allowed to take a toilet break when I asked for a medical. He had already taken two medicals. He was getting medically evaluated and after the evaluation, the guy goes and takes a toilet break.

“It's like, where is the line? Where are you going to step on the players and say, Okay - and again, I respect everything that Rafa has done and I think he's an unbelievable player.

“But, you know, there's got to be some boundaries, some rules set. It's just so frustrating as a player. You know, you feel like you're not just playing against the player; you're playing against the umpires, you're playing against so much more.”

There’s no doubt that Nadal transcends the sport along with fellow “Big 3” members Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. However, this shouldn't entitle any of them to preferential treatment; especially from the umpires. Otherwise, the integrity of the sport is completely undermined.

Shapovalov believes Nadal gets looked after due to his achievements within the game and beyond.

“Of course. 100% he does. 100%. Every other match that I have played, the pace has been so quick because the refs have been on the clock after every single point,” Shapovalov said.

“This one, I mean, after the first two sets it was like an hour and a half just because he's dragged out so much after every single point. He's given so much time in between sets and all this. It's just dragged out.

“Like I said…literally, for the same reason I wasn't allowed to go to the washroom last year at the Australian Open because I had called a medical. I'm not arguing the fact that he had a medical or whatever it is, you know.

“But how can you get evaluated medically and have a toilet break at the same break and just causing so much delay in the game?

“I mean, it's just not balanced, you know.”

Post-match, Nadal brushed off the comments made by Shapovalov and insisted he doesn’t receive preferential treatment.

“I really believe that sometimes it's always in the mind that the top players get bigger advantages and honestly on court is not true, no? That's my feeling. I never feel that I had advantages on court, and I really believe that he's wrong in that case,” Nadal said.

Shapovalov was certainly wrong to call the umpires corrupt but the young Canadian definitely has a point when it comes to the preferential treatment afforded to the top players.

Whether it’s subconscious or not by the umpires, it is wrong to bend the rules just because it’s Rafael Nadal.

Here’s hoping the umpires remove the rose coloured glasses and treat the world No. 200 the same as the major winners.


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