Countdown to French Open: Umpires in the firing line

A stray shot aimed for the stands, a frustrated kick into an advertisement sign, a racquet smash instead of a handshake… when umpires face the wrath of players

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Denis Shapovalov reacts after accidentally hitting the chair umpire in the face with a ball during a Davis Cup tie in 2017

It’s not uncommon for a tennis player to get into a heated debate with an official on court. But there have been instances when, accidentally or otherwise, things go overboard between the player and umpire. Lovetennis.com recounts some of these bizarre moments.

Denis Shapovalov – 2017 Davis Cup, World Group First Round

Then 17 and ranked 234, Denis Shapovalov was to play the deciding rubber against Kyle Edmund of Great Britain. He lost the first two sets and when his serve was broken at 2-1 in the third set, he attempted to hit a ball into the stands, but mishit the shot and instead struck chair umpire Arnaud Gabas in the eye.

The young Canadian was defaulted and fined US$ 700, also costing his country a spot in the quarterfinal. He did however go to the referee’s room after the match and apologised to Gabas. He used that incident as a ‘maturing’ experience and soon started to shoot up the rankings, finishing that year ranked 51.

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David Nalbandian – 2012 Queen’s Club, final

David Nalbandian checks on the line-umpire

David Nalbandian had won the first set in a tie-break against Marin Cilic in the Queen’s Club final. Then at 3-3, his serve was broken after he hit a forehand, on the run. Frustrated, he kicked an advertisement panel that was placed in front of the line-umpire. The panel broke and badly gashed the line-umpire’s leg.

A medical team was close at hand to stop the bleeding, but Nalbandian’s fate – a default – was already sealed.

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Karolina Pliskova – 2018 Rome Premier 5/Masters, second round

Karolina Pliskova hits her racquet into the side of the umpire’s chair

The normally stoic Karolina Pliskova decided not to shake the chair umpire’s hand after her second round defeat to Maria Sakkari, and instead smashed her racquet on the umpire’s chair, breaking the advertisement board attached to it.

The Czech had won the first set and then dropped the second. In the third, serving at 5-5, she played a smash that the line-umpire called wide, but Pliskova claimed was in. Neither the line-umpire nor the chair umpire could find the exact mark on the clay court, meaning the original call would stand – handing Sakkari a break point. Sakkari would go on to convert the break and then serve out the match.

Pliskova was later handed a ‘four-figure fine.’

Daniil Medvedev – 2017 Wimbledon, second round

Daniil Medvedev tosses coins at the umpire’s chair

After pulling off an upset win over Stan Wawrinka in the opening round, Daniil Medvedev put himself in hot water after an ill-tempered second round loss to Ruben Bemelmans. Medvedev had reacted angrily to controversial calls during the match, but immediately after his five-set loss, he pulled out his wallet and started throwing coins in the direction of the chair umpire, with whom he had been arguing through the match.

He later said he would apologise to her once got a chance to meet her.

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Jeff Tarango – 1995 Wimbledon, third round

Jeff Tarango argues with the tournament supervisor

American player Jeff Tarango became the first player to default himself after picking up his bag and leaving midway through a match. It happened in the third round at Wimbledon 1995 against Germany’s Alexander Mronz.

Angered by a serve he perceived as an ace being called a fault by the chair umpire, Tarango started arguing with the umpire. When the crowd started booing the player, he turned to them and shouted “shut up,” prompting a warning from the umpire. Before the next point was played, he called the umpire “corrupt,” inviting a second warning and this time a point penalty.

Tarango then packed his bag and left the court. But the drama still continued. His wife tracked down the umpire in the All England Club and slapped him.

“That man deserved to be taught a lesson,” she said, after hijacking Tarango’s post-match press conference.

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Serena Williams – 2009 US Open, semi-final

Serena Williams pleads her case with officials

Controversy marred Kim Clijsters’ straight-sets win over Serena Williams in the semi-final. Williams was serving at 5-6, 15-30 after losing the opening set 4-6. On her second serve though, the line-umpire called foot-fault to bring Clijsters to match point.

Williams did not shrug the call away and instead started gesticulating, allegedly yelled profanities, and also threatened to “shove a tennis ball” down the line-umpire’s throat. The line-umpire promptly informed the chair umpire. Though it is not clear what Williams had shouted, cameras picked up her saying “I didn’t say I would kill you! Are you serious?” in her conversation with officials.

Since Williams had already been issued a warning earlier for racquet abuse, the unsportsmanlike conduct warning she would get as a result of the exchange meant she would be docked a point – handing Clijsters the match.

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Stefan Edberg – 1983 junior boys US Open, final

Players and officials check on Richard Wertheim

Through his career, Stefan Edberg would never be known as a powerful server. But in the 1983 US Open junior boys final against Simon Youl of Australia, he sent an errant serve straight at line-judge Richard Wertheim, hitting him in the groin. The umpire then fell off his chair and hit his head on the hard surface. Wertheim slipped into a coma and would never recover, eventually passing away five days later.

As the match later continued, Edberg won the title to become, till date, the only junior player to have won a Calendar Slam.

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Novak Djokovic – 2020 US Open, fourth round

Novak Djokovic in conversation with the tournament referee and Grand Slam Supervisor

Arguably, Novak Djokovic being defaulted in the fourth round was the most talked about moment at the US Open – even more than Dominic Thiem winning his first ever Grand Slam. Frustrated by the tenacity of Pablo Carreno Busta, the Serb angrily hit a ball towards the backboard after the Spaniard broke serve at 5-5 in the opening set. Inadvertently, the ball struck a lineswoman on the throat.

Djokovic apologised immediately and walked to assist her as she had fallen down after the blow. The tournament referee, chair umpire and Grand Slam Supervisor also rushed to the spot. After more than 10 minutes of discussion though, the decision was made to default the 17-time major winner.

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