Why I wanted to boo Nadal, too
I was at Melbourne Park for the men's final on Sunday and, to all those sanctimonious types who've wailed about the crowd's heckling of Rafael Nadal, I must say I felt exactly the same way as the boo-boys.
I'd been mesmerised by Stan Wawrinka's play over the first set and a bit. It was tennis of the most sublime quality - backhand winners peeled off down the line, crunching off forehand winners - that rendered Nadal's power game almost impotent.
The crowd had turned up hoping for some sort of contest - anything but the straight-sets bore-athon which had been predicted by just about every expert - and they were loving the way Wawrinka was, in his first Grand Slam final, totally dismantling the world No.1 and raging favourite.
Here was a sporting moment that every underdog-loving Australian could revel in: a no-hoper - tennis' Buster Douglas - playing the match of his life to give the world champ not just a bloody nose but a standing count from the ref.
I was actually, by some ticketing quirk, sitting in Row A, right in the corner of the court, above the Chinese characters that apparently denote the ANZ Bank. Close enough to feel the hoardings reverberate every time a Wawrinka serve crashed into the signage just below me; close enough to see the despair on Nadal's face as his opponent bullied and bossed him around the court in a way that few, if any, players have done before.
When Nadal came back on to the court after his medical time out, at 1-2 in the second set, he walked towards the ball boy just below me to collect a handful of balls, his brow furrowed even more deeply than usual as boos echoed around the stadium. He couldn't seem to comprehend the crowd reaction: they're booing me?
Four nights earlier, I'd seen the usually imperturbable Roger Federer feel aggrieved enough at Nadal's antics to complain to chair umpire Jake Garner about the Spaniard's grunting and time-wasting.
Channel Seven flashed up a stat at one stage of that match, indicating Nadal was taking an average of 28 seconds betweeen points on his service, Federer 20 seconds, the maximum time permissible under ATP rules. So why was Nadal allowed eight seconds longer than everyone else? And why isn't he more regularly called out on that?
Federer wanted to know as much, calling on weak offials to clamp down on the Spaniard's serial gamesmanship.
He later said Nadal had been given just two time violations in the 33 times they'd met, covering 80 hours or more of tennis. Two measly violations.
Which is why I felt Eva Asderaki, the Greek chair umpire during Nadal's round-four match against Kei Nishikori, deserved some sort of Australia Day medal. There was Nadal serving, with the third set locked at 4-4 and deuce, and taking his usual interminable time between points when Ms Asderaki piped up: ''Time violation, Mr Nadal'', meaning the gobsmacked world No.1 had to forfeit his first serve.
For me, an absolutely priceless moment that should feature in any tournament highlights package.
(Just to illustrate how Team Nadal doesn't get it, uncle Toni later told Spanish radio it would be better if umpires were drawn from a pool of former players who knew what it was like to be out on court in a pressure situation. "We had a problem with a girl (Asderaki)," uncle Toni gallantly explained to the interviewer.)