When does it become not acceptable to play tennis in the 21st century where TV scheduling and pleasing the sponsors appears now to take precedence over the welfare and requests of the players?
Now this is an oversight criticism of tennis itself. It may not relate fully to the situation on Wednesday where Gael Monfils and Fabio Fognini slugged it out in near pitch-black conditions on the hallowed clay of Roland Garros.
While many have slated the officials for bowing to crowd pressure to continue at 4-4 in the fifth set while other matches had long since ceased to continue, I feel that they may have been worried about the kind of weather-induced backlog that has haunted Wimbledon through the 1990s.
Fabio Fognini, of course, refused to take part in this farce and was handed a point penalty for his troubles, which lasted for over five minutes. After Monfils failed to capitalise on a match point Fognini clawed it back to 5-5 before the match was carried over to the following day.
But you know all this already. Is it an isolated case? Definitely not. How does this compare to tennis mishaps from the umpires of yesteryear? We take a look back through the annuls of tennis to find out.
Hearing Aid for the Umpire Please
During the third round of the 1977 US Open at Forest Hills John McEnroe was facing Eddie Dibbs when there was a large commotion in the crowd. The umpire called the two players over and informed them that somebody had been shot, before announcing that he had heard wrong and that somebody was in fact in shock. McEnroe went on to win the match and the umpire then admitted he had been right first time round. A spectator had been hit by a stray bullet from the streets of Queens. It was a sad end to the Open’s stay at Forest Hills before it shifted venue in 1978.
Mass Peer Pressure
Mr. McEnroe was involved once more but, again, it was not his temperament in question. This time he was fighting Ilie Nastase in the 1979 US Open at its new home at Flushing Meadow. During the fourth set McEnroe served and Nastase held up his hand to motion he was not ready. The umpire awarded McEnroe the point and Nastase, backed by 10,000 vocal fans, complained. Nastase continued his vocal crusade and was finally docked the game. The crowd exploded and rubbish rained down from the stands on to the court and the cops were called. After seventeen minutes Nastase was asked to resume and after refusing for the one-minute service time period he was disqualified and McEnroe handed the match. Again there were mass complaints and, fearing a full scale riot, the umpire was replaced by tournament officials and the match continued. Unfortunately for Nastase, McEnroe went on to win this one too.
Gentleman Tim Accidentally Sets Record
Of all the people you never thought it would be, in 1995 Tim Henman became the first man to be thrown out of Wimbledon. During a doubles match with Jeremy Bates Henman lost a crucial point in the fourth set tiebreaker and frustratingly smashed the ball downcourt. Unfortunately, standing in the way was the face of sixteen-year-old ball girl Caroline Hall who was running cross-court to resume her correct position. The umpire didn’t even hesitate and disqualified the pair. Still, Hall got a huge bunch of flowers and a kiss from Tim for her troubles the next day.
A Really Aggressive Wife Doesn’t Win You Tennis Matches
Obviously peeved that Henman had beaten him to that Wimby record a few days previously, American Jeff Tarango took particular umbrage to umpire Bruno Rebuah continually ruling against him. His outburst of “That’s it, I’m not playing” is now pretty famous as was his pleas to officials to remove the umpire. After telling an angry crowd to “shut up” he packed his bags and stormed off court, disqualifying himself. To make matters worse for Rebuah, Tarango’s wife Benedicte then stormed on court and slapped him twice in the face. Tarango was heavily fined for his troubles and banned from the next two Grand Slams.
Father Doesn’t Always Know Best
This could relate to a number of people here but we are in fact talking about Damir Dokic who was famously ejected from his daughter Jelena’s match in the pre-Wimby tournament at Birmingham’s Edgbaston Club in June 1999. After a string of decisions went against Jelena, Damir became increasingly agitated in his chair. A string of outbursts towards the umpire ended with him shouting to everybody present that “they were fascists” for which he was finally ejected. Once outside, he proceeded to lie in front of traffic in the middle of the road and eventually spent the afternoon in prison.
Of course there are many others. A lot have come from the mouths of that pesky Mr. McEnroe and Madame Serena Williams. But for now we return back to the present day and to the current happenings in Paris. It’s a Slam which is shaping up pretty nicely so far. We hope that continues, and more for the tennis than the likes of the difficult situations umpires find themselves in like those listed above.