CORRECTION: In the following audio commentary, Yanina and Alize were playing the final of Nernberger Gastein, not AEGON. I just didn’t feel like going back and re-recording the commentary.
Before I even get to what I want to say about David Nalbandian being kicked out of the Queens Club final take a look at what I will be commenting about so you can get some perspective:
Tennis is my favorite sport. By far. Introduced to the game at a very young age, it’s difficult for me to remember a time I didn’t know what tennis was, from being a 4 year old watching Billie Jean King vs Bobby Riggs to today. But the behavior of some players towards officials is a black eye on the sport. Tennis players know they are the commodity, the product. The show doesn’t go on if one player is defaulted. In baseball, the game goes on if Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter get ejected. In golf, if Tiger Woods were to do something so egregious to get disqualified in the middle of a round, they don’t pull everybody off the course and cancel the round. But in a tennis match, you can’t play with only one participant. Tennis players know that. And I think it gives them a kind of shield against bad behavior. They know the tournament organizers, the network broadcasters and the sponsors don’t want to upset fans or lose revenue by ending a match early. So John McEnroe, Ilie Nastase and others throughout the years have gotten away with berating officials in a way that would not be tolerated in other sports. Off the top of my head, I can think of one time McEnroe was defaulted, at an Australian Open. They would rather just give players code conduct point violations. Even when Serena Williams had her foot-fault meltdown against an official, she wasn’t defaulted outright. Some people report that match as if Serena would have won but was defaulted. What really happened was she lost because of when the code conduct penalty occured, which just happened to be match point. Kim Clijsters had won the first set against Serena. Serena was serving in the second set trailing 15-30, two points away from losing cleanly to Clijsters. The foot fault on a second serve brought it to match point, 15-40, for Clijsters. That’s when Serena went ballistic:
The resulting code conduct penalty on match point meant Serena lost the game and the match. However, had the score been 30-all, or basically any score that wasn’t match point for Clijsters, they would have kept playing. So let me understand this. A player can threaten to shove a ball down an official’s throat, but the player could still keep playing? Only in tennis. I guarantee you that if LeBron James threw a Serena fit and threatened to shove a basketball down an officials throat that not only would he get a double technical and get tossed but would also be looking at a suspension from the NBA league offices.
Look, I hear the people saying the official just had a little nick on the leg and he’ll survive. That is so not the point. Nor is Nalbandian’s comments on how many mistakes the ATP makes. And also, I reject the argument that Nalbandian was just kicking the ad around the line judge and didn’t mean to hurt him. The judge is sitting in the middle of the ad! Even if the ad wouldn’t have hit him, I still think he should be defaulted. You can’t just walk over to where a line judge is and kick the enclosure where he’s sitting. That is pure disrespect. Now, if he had smashed an advertisement that wasn’t near an official, maybe I just give him a code conduct point penalty and deal with it by fining him. But Nalbandian isn’t blind. He, just like the rest of us, can clearly see the line judge sitting in the box. Nalbandian absolutely did that on purpose. And this is not a first with him. He threw water at a staff member during the 2012 Australian Open and was fined $8000, nothing for a player of his level and financial means. He should have been suspended for a lengthy period by the ATP. Because it doesn’t matter that it was only water and didn’t hurt anybody. And it doesn’t matter why he did it. What matters is it’s another example of a tennis player abusing tournament staff and/or officials. That cannot be tolerated. But tennis is so afraid to suspend anybody because the players are the product. I hope this default of Nalbandian at Queen’s Club is followed by a suspension, but it won’t be. There’s no way they suspend Nalbandian on the eve of Wimbledon. They should. The people who run the tour need to have some courage and send a message that it doesn’t matter what McEnroe, Nastase and others got away with in the past. It’s a new day and that kind of behavior will not be tolerated. Trust me, at first it will be tough defaulting players. But once a few get the boot and have their prize money and ranking points pulled, as Nalbandian will as a result of this, then other players will think twice about how they treat tournament staff. Otherwise, the message being sent by the ITF, ATP and WTA is as long as they don’t draw blood, players can do what they want.