On an incredibly humid day in Toronto in 2010, chair umpire Fergus Murphy won my heart. There had been a really long rain delay but finally, the match between Feliciano Lopez and Thiemo de Bakker was going to take place. And then, the love affair between me and Fergus Murphy began.
During the first changeover, Feliciano asked Fergus for some sawdust to rub on his hands and his grip to soak up the moisture. So, Fergus had one of the ball kids look for sawdust and there wasn’t any. He radioed for some to be brought to the court and told Feliciano that it would be there by the next changeover. During Feliciano’s next service game, however, he went to serve and the racquet came flying out of his hand during the motion. He complained to Fergus again about the sawdust and Fergus tells him again that he’s radioed for some and it’s coming.
However, during the next changeover, there’s still no sawdust. Feliciano was visibly frustrated by this and kept complaining about it. So, Fergus called one of the ball kids over and said, and this is a direct quote because I’ll never forget this, “Do you know what sawdust is? Sawdust is, you know when you cut a piece of wood, the dust that comes out? That’s sawdust.” He sends the ball kid over to Court 1 to find some and the players go back out to play. Next changeover, there is still no sawdust.
So, Fergus calls another ball kid over and repeats himself. “Do you know what sawdust is? Sawdust is, you know when you cut a piece of wood, the dust that comes out? That’s sawdust.” But this time the camera is on him so I could see him making hand signals to go along with his explanation, like using one hand as though it was a piece of wood and the other like it was a saw. I about died laughing. So ball kid #2 goes and tells another ball kid to go find some sawdust, and as ball kid #2 comes back towards the chair, Fergus asks him, “Did you tell him what to do? Does he know what sawdust is?”
The ball kid must have said yes because that was the end of the conversation. The sawdust ended up arriving at the court halfway through the second set, by which time Feliciano had already lost the first and was so frustrated with the conditions and lack of sawdust that he’d lost focus, and he ended up losing the match. But I will never forget the sawdust thing as long as I live. It was so funny. “Do you know what sawdust is?” I’m still laughing about it.