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29/09/2010 22:43 CEST - Us Open

Did Nadal admit to cheating?

Nadal tells Spanish newspaper that his support team told him where to serve during the last game of his US Open final against Djokovic.  Joella Klinghoffer

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Rafael Nadal's amazing accomplishment in winning his first U.S. Open and a career grand slam at age 24 is the talk of tennis fans everywhere. The final itself featured some thrilling exchanges between Nadal and a battling Novak Djokovic, as well as a heartwarming presentation ceremony where the respect between the two finalists was apparant to all. An especially nice moment came when Nadal praised Djokovic, who smiled despite the tough loss, for his positive attitude, and lauded him as a "great example for the kids." This was well-said by Nadal, and reflected credit on both men.

Nadal's head must be spinning these past few days, as he makes the media rounds. In addition to various appearences on American television, he granted an interview to journalist Juan Jose Mateo of the Spanish newspaper El Pais. During the course of the interview came the following puzzling exchange:

"Interviewer: You look to your bench, and you are so nervous that you ask: 'Where?' 'Where do I serve?' Was it so difficult?


Nadal: It was in the last game, when I was serving for the match . . . I didn't know where to serve. Down the center, to the middle or to try the classic play of the wide serve and then try to hit the forehand. They told me to serve wide and that's where I served."


To read the full Spanish interview, click here

Unless there was an error in transcription, it appears that Nadal is freely admitting that he both asked for and received advice on where to place his serve during the last game of the match. Such an exchange is quite obviously coaching, and is against the rules. It's extremely surprising that Nadal would admit such a thing, especially since there have been several controversies, including a recent one, regarding coaching in his career.


In 2006, Roger Federer complained that Nadal's uncle and coach Toni Nadal was advising him from the stands, but subsequently made clear that he had no idea whether Rafa was paying attention to the advice. "My frustration was directed more at Toni", he later explained, "I wasn't accusing Nadal of cheating." At this year's Wimbledon, Nadal was fined $2,000 for receiving coaching during his third round match. At the post match press conference, Nadal allowed that “sometimes in the past Toni talk maybe too much . .. but not today, in my opinion.”


However what Nadal appears to admit to in El Pais goes far beyond having an enthusiastic coach who struggles to hold his tongue. He's stating that during a stressful time in the match, he both requested and received tactical instruction from his support group. That's cheating.


Given that Nadal was already ahead by a double break, the exchange surely did not affect the ultimate outcome of the match. He was on the cusp of a historic achievement, his mind paralyzed with nerves. Still, as he eloquently pointed out during the presentation ceremonies, top athletes are often role models for kids. Positive attitude is important, but so is following the rules. Unless he has been unfairly misquoted, Nadal owes the tennis world a public apology.

UPDATE: The above article has been brought to the attention of Nadal's media contact, Benito Perez-Barbadillo. He declined to respond (and I'm phrasing that more gently than he did). That's dissapointing, as even if the El Pais interview was innaccurate, you would think Nadal's camp would want to set the record straight, especially since El Pais is a major Spanish newpaper with a large circulation. I'll continue to report on this story if there are any new developments.

Joella klinghoffer

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