It was a normal Sunday final: two opponents hitting balls at each other, a veteran and a young gun who both surprisingly made it that far considering the strength of the field. The veteran had taken the first set in a disputed tiebreak, but the young gun was up a break in the second and had just been broken back. Then, in a flurry of mistakes, the young gun broke again. The veteran showed obvious frustration.
A normal Sunday final on the ATP Tour, so far. However, it wasn’t. The veteran is David Nalbandian and his gesture of frustration was one that might just have been one of his usual, as we know the Argentine is a hot-blooded fellow. This time, the object of his venting was not his racquet or the fence and he issued none of his usual curses. No. Today, he decided that an advertising box would be the target of his (normal) frustration.
The problem is that a linesman was sitting on a chair inside the advertising box and that the box did not survive Nalbandian’s kick of rage, broke, and hit the poor linesman on the leg, making him bleed.
That’s when Nalbandian realised he did something utterly wrong. He apologised profusely to the poor man, but the deed was done. Out came the ATP supervisor and, without any surprise, shortly thereafter came the verdict: David Nalbandian was defaulted and Marin Cilic was the AEGON Championships winner.
Here’s what happened, in video:
The gesture, I admit, was terrible. However, the injury to the linesman was accidental. Yes, David Nalbandian intentionally hit the advertising board, but he never, in any way, intentionally hit the linesman. That part was the accidental one and any media reporting otherwise doesn’t have their facts straights, if you looked at the video.
Nevertheless, it did not take much longer for all hell to break loose amongst fans of the sport, casual tennis watchers, and journalists alike. In the journalists’ case, it was the time for old grudges to just come out and for axes to be ground. Some actually went as far as venting their hatred at Nalbandian, calling him “the worst individual on Tour” or “the biggest jerk since Marcelo Rios”, and other like epithets.
I stop there to, again, reiterate that at no time, David Nalbandian intended to hit or hurt the linesman. This was an accident and he really did repent afterwards, even taking time to go and talk to the crowd (à chaud), and apologise for his gesture (I keep the grammar as Nalbandian said things, so there are a lot of sic that I don’t put as there would be too many):
“I’m very sorry to do that but sometimes you get very frustrated here on court and it’s tough to control that and sometimes I do a mistake, I agreed with that. It’s a very tough moment to end a final like that but sometimes we feel so much pressure from the ATP, trying to play a lot of tournaments try to play in conditions and ATP doesn’t do anything for us. And today, I do a mistake, I have to pay like that. And sometimes I disagree with that and I agree that I do a mistake. But sometimes everybody do a mistakes and I didn’t feel it had to end like that and especially in a final. I’m very sorry.”
Had he left it at that, it would have been all right, although his words towards the ATP were not, I must say, the wisest thing to say in the circumstances. But Nalbandian did apologise for his gesture, for his mistake. However, what followed is quite questionable… Answering a question about how the rule is, indeed, default, he goes:
“Yeah, but there is a lot of rules but sometimes they don’t do anything. The rule book is very big, very big. And I can tell you that the ATP do a lot of mistakes, a lot of mistakes to the players and nothing happens. And that’s what the players disagree to it with the ATP.”
That’s where he pushed it a little too far. I’m not saying he was wrong or right, just that it was not the moment to say what he did, even though, if we’ve followed the sport for long enough, we know that the rules are not often applied evenly depending on who “makes a mistake” and their standing.
However, in this case, Nalbandian knows and we know that the punishment is justified. David Nalbandian deserved to be defaulted for his actions, as someone has been injured in his anger outburst. It was an accident, but someone got injured and so, accordingly, Nalbandian was defaulted.
Tom Barnes, the ATP supervisor, confirmed afterwards that there would be no further sanction given Nalbandian. He was defaulted, which automatically included the loss of his prize money (about $33,000 USD if we only count up to the semi-finals, about $57,000 USD if it’s his finalist’s prize money) and ranking points (150) for the tournament. Furthermore, his actions are under study for a fine that can go up to $10,000. But no further sanction on top of it, which means that Nalbandian is allowed to play The Boodles exhibition, as well as Wimbledon, and the Olympic Games.
After the match, Nalbandian spoke at length to Jorge Viale (ESPN Deportes, Fue Buena) and you can listen to the audio (in Spanish) here. He again apologised for what he did and continued having a go at the ATP, but if you listen carefully, the man has a point, I think. He’s saying what other players have been saying since last year. However, I still think it wasn’t the time for such argumentation, but that’s another story.
Edit: This statement was also issued from Nalbandian, where he offers, again, his apologies for what happened.