Rafael Nadal advanced to the final of the Monte Carlo Masters on Saturday for the 11th time, but it was the first time he rode into the championship match on a wave of jeers and catcalls.
The boos weren't entirely for Nadal. In fact, most of them were directed at chair umpire Cedric Maurier. He made an enormous mistake in overruling a line call. It well could have cost David Goffin a chance to play in his first Masters final and the fans an opportunity to witness a highly competitive match after what started out as a terrific battle between players with wildly different skill sets.
Goffin was so distracted by Maurier's mistake that he won just one more game. Nadal cruised 6-3, 6-1. It took about 45 minutes to get to 3-3, then just 45 more to end the debacle.
Here's what happened: Goffin served the 3-2 game, clinging to an advantage after four deuces. During the next brief point, Nadal hit a forehand well long to Goffin's forehand corner. The "out" call was loud and forceful. Nadal had no reaction; he strolled toward his deuce corner, head down.
But Maurier climbed down from his chair to check the mark. He picked the wrong one, from a ball that had cleaned the line. Surprisingly, Maurier didn't even consult the baseline official for the location of the mark. Maurier overruled the call and ordered the point replayed.
Goffin, a mild-mannered 26-year-old Belgian who was the No. 10 seed, could hardly believe his eyes and ears. He protested volubly. The crowd got also into it, lavishly booing and whistling. But it was too late. Meanwhile, television screens in the U.S. projected the Hawk-Eye replay. It showed that the ball was nowhere near the line. It was a good half-foot or more behind it.
Goffin managed to keep his mind on the job and fought through another handful of deuces, but Nadal ultimately punched through to level at 3-3. But the outrage among the spectators continued, as it would for the rest of the match.
Goffin was finished, it soon became clear. He was a shadow of his early self the rest of the way. It would have been admirable if he were able to slough off that egregious injustice and sustain his original intensity and keen focus. But that was asking a lot.
It would also have been admirable of Nadal to intercede and give Goffin the point. Is it asking too much?
Nadal had been the recipient of voluntary good sportsmanship a number of times in his career, most memorably in five-set Australian Open battle against U.S. player Tim Smyczek two years ago.
Players have overruled on behalf of opponents on many occasions. A pro player knows when he hits a ball that will land out by a half-foot or more. Nadal's body language a split second after he struck the ball suggested he lost the point and was ready to move on. And finally, there was the nature and length of Goffin's protest.
It's disappointing Nadal didn't step up and give Goffin the point. It's probably a measure of how badly the No. 4 seed wants to win the title a 10th time and wants to complete a resurgence, not to mention regain his "King of Clay" title.
But Goffin probably wanted to make his first Masters 1000 final just as deeply.
Tennis Channel's Mary Carillo came out and voiced her opinion that Nadal should have interceded to give Goffin the point.
You may not agree with her call, but it's certainly more defensible than the one Maurier made.