Nadal finally called out for breaking rules
THERE has been an elephant in the room for most of Rafael Nadal's career and, at Wimbledon on Friday morning (EST), umpire Carlos Bernardes had it in his sights.
As phenomenal as Nadal is, the Spanish colossus has an asterisk next his name.
No player has broken the sport's rules as often as the 17-time major winner.
Nor as freely.
Nadal is no cheat but he has operated outside of the laws of the sport for virtually all of his career by routinely exceeding time limits.
Unchallenged. To his benefit and to the sport's cost.
Bernardes and Nadal have been at odds for several years and it was immediately clear the official was in no mood to allow Nadal more time to prepare than opponent Mikhail Kukushkin.
The world No 1 was given two warnings by Bernardes, a man he openly resents, on centre court - the first before the match even started.
As is his custom, Nadal wends his way painstakingly through a pre-match routine which includes fastidiously ensuring drink bottle labels face in the correct direction.
As the clock ticked past the permitted seven-minute warm-up period and Nadal rolled through five extra serves, Bernardes had seen enough.
He gave the first warning. At the end of the second set, there was another code violation.
Nadal agreed he was at fault.
"I had to take the wristband, T-shirt, banana out, change everything. Between sets I needed that time to change all these stuff because it was a very humid day, that's all," he said.
"Yeah, I accept because, yeah, I was slow."
The contrition was genuine.
Regardless of the antipathy between Bernardes and much-loved Nadal, the real danger is the potential for spectator impatience in a sports landscape shaped by short-format rivals.
Players have 25 seconds between points.
At the French Open, Nadal and Novak Djokovic - with his mind-numbing habit of incessant ball-bouncing - seldom adhered to the rule.
Bernardes deserves praise for his actions to grapple with a blight, with the world looking on.
The Brazilian is not a publicity seeker as some officials are. Nor would he want to be seen as courageous or honourable for enforcing rules.
He was simply doing his job.
Others who sit in the chair for big matches need to follow suit.
And Rafa needs to speed up. Simple.