The battle of attrition that is the Mercedes-Benz Cup lost another big name Wednesday night when third-seeded Marcelo Rios of Chile was disqualified in the first set for a verbal abuse allegedly directed at chair umpire Tony Nimmons, the latest addition to what has already been an unlikely string of events for a tennis tournament barely past the first round.
Rios, ranked 29th in the world, admitted using the profanity, but said Nimmons was not the target.
“I said it to me,” Rios said.
Nimmons told ATP tour supervisor Gayle Bradshaw he was certain the word was directed at him, worth an immediate default on the Stadium Court at UCLA’s Los Angeles Tennis Center. It sent unseeded Goichi Motomura of Japan into the second round to face Jason Stoltenberg of Australia today.
“The umpire’s running the match,” Bradshaw said of taking Nimmons’ word over Rios’.
The dispute began with Motomura, ranked 230th, leading, 5-3, in the first match of the night session. As Motomura served to begin the ninth game, Rios, saying people were moving in the stands to his right, behind Nimmons’ elevated position, raised his arm to ask for time. It was not granted and Motomura’s delivery flew by for an ace.
“No,” Motomura said, saying Rios’ request did not come in time, “I hit already.”
Rios complained, without yelling or gesturing wildly. The conversation with Nimmons continued as Rios stayed on the baseline. After about a minute, he walked toward the umpire’s chair. They spent about two minutes there, before Nimmons gestured for Bradshaw to come over.
“They had a discussion, and in the discussion Marcelo said the magic words to the chair umpire,” Bradshaw said. “That is why I went on the court.
“Obviously, it’s a tense situation for all involved on the court. So I gave a chance for the chair umpire to be 100% sure of what was said and the way in which it was said. He was.
“At least three times, ‘Are you 100% sure he was looking at you and that’s what he said? He [Nimmons] said, ‘Yes.’ ”
That verbal abuse was grounds for the immediate default, rather than a point penalty or another lesser discipline. It also resulted in an undetermined fine and forced Rios to forfeit the $3,500 in prize money for the first-round loss and meant he, and not the tournament, would have to pay for his hotel room. He will not be suspended.
“It bothers me because I didn’t say it to him,” Rios said. “It’s against my word. He’s saying something that [didn’t happen].
“It’s not fair that the umpire, because he doesn’t want you to win, does things like he did today.”
Rios’ stay lasted all of 41 minutes, before his exit became part of the disappointment of tournament officials that has grown by the day, coming on the heels of injury-related withdrawals by Andre Agassi, Thomas Enqvist, Gustavo Kuerten, Goran Ivanisevic and Vince Spadea. The latter came earlier Wednesday, making Spadea a late scratch, before his first-round match against Mark Philippoussis.
Spadea withdrew because of an electrolyte imbalance, an illness that arose last week during the United States’ Davis Cup loss. He spent Monday in the hospital there, traveled to Los Angeles on Tuesday and was examined Wednesday by tournament doctor George Fareed, who determined Spadea would be unable to play.
Scott Humphries took Spadea’s place and gave the second-seeded Philippoussis a challenge before losing, 7-5, 7-6 (2). Michael Chang was the only other player seeded in the top four who advanced, winning his second-round match, 6-1, 6-3, against Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe. He will play fifth-seeded Wayne Ferreira of South Africa, a 7-6 (1), 4-6, 7-5 winner over Paradorn Srichapan of Thailand.
Lionel Roux and Arnaud Clement set up an all-French meeting in another quarterfinal by beating Jan Kroslak of Slovakia and Neville Godwin of South Africa, respectively.
In a tournament that obviously could use star power, Jan-Michael Gambill provides at least a potential boost, defeating former USC star Cecil Mamiit, 6-3, 6-2.
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Today’s singles matches at the Mercedes-Benz Cup at the Los Angeles Tennis Center:
* Noon: Alex O’Brien vs. Paul Goldstein; Laurence Tieleman (Italy) vs. Jan-Michael Gambill; Goichi Motomura (Japan) vs. Jason Stoltenberg (Australia).
* 7:30 p.m.: Justin Gimelstob vs. Mark Philippoussis (Australia).