Edge of the last nerve
Though Serena Williams inched grievously close to her record 24th Grand Slam title, she grabbed headlines the next day for all the wrong reasons – an unfortunate spat and a slip of calm. Yet, she isn’t the first and she won’t be the last of greats to lose their spirit in the frenzy of a pulsating match
Following the bitter verbal volley with chair umpire Carlos Ramos in her controversial US Open finals defeat to Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams was slammed with a fine of 17,000 USD for three code violations – 4,000 USD for receiving on-court coaching, 3,000 USD for racket abuse, and 10,000 USD for calling Ramos a 'thief' and 'liar' – all of which ultimately cost her a 24th Grand Slam title. The match has sparked several rows on sexism in tennis; particularly upon Serena's comment that male players are more often condoned than condemned when venting on-court frustration. But, Williams, arguably the greatest of all time American star, is far from being the first in line to flip out on the court. Tennis has had a vibrant and often dark history of meltdowns that have at times led to the imposition of hefty penalties.
The latest row against chair umpire Carlos Ramos isn't the first instance where that the 23-time champion lost her calm. With her win against Jelena Jankovic at the 2008 US Open finals, Serena regained her long-lost top spot and was all set to unleash a hot run including the 2009 Australian Open and the Wimbledon. With a chance to win three of the four major tournaments that year, Serena just had to get the better of her long-time rival Kim Clijsters – the other finalist being the unmatched Caroline Wozniacki – in the semi-final clash of the 2009 US Open. Chasing her second consecutive US Open title, Serena received a warning for racket abuse before she ferociously quoted 'shove this ball down your throat' to the lineswoman when the latter called a foot-fault as Serena was serving in an attempt to force a tie-breaker in the second round. Clijsters was awarded a point following the outburst that called the curtains for Williams in the championship, with the match being on a match point.
Johnny McEnroe, sporting a headband on fizzy hair, is regarded as tennis's ultimate bad boy. He has more than a dozen outbursts against his name – including the 'You Cannot Be Serious' incident at Wimbledon in 1981. The famous turbulence with the chair umpire during the Stockholm Open semi-final clash against Anders Jarryd when he uttered "Answer my question! The question, jerk!" – earned him a suspension of 42 days. He further went on to smash his racquet. Making a late intoductory appearance at the Australian Open, he didn't delay in making his mark. In a round match, he smashed the racquet and exchanged few bitter words with the tournament referee staring at the lineswoman. Being unaware of the change in conduct rules that required three warnings instead of four for a disqualification, McEnroe was surprised upon his disqualification but suggested that the officials reconsider their decision. During the Australian Open in 1990, a penalty of 6,500 USD was imposed upon McEnroe for shouting at the judges and smashing his racquet, thereby becoming the first player to be defaulted from a Grand Slam. All he could afford was to seek apology.
American tennis star Jimmy Connors was a great talent – he was also popular for his outbursts, especially against his rival, John McEnroe. "The boxing gloves are going to start coming out, I'm afraid," said Connors, following his argument with McEnroe at a Chicago tournament in 1982. At the fourth round of the 1991 US Open, Connors was a set down against countryman Aaron Krickstein and was about to face the set point of the next round. The chair called out his shot, but Connors was not satisfied and backed by the NY crowd, he squawked at the umpire "I'm out here playing my butt off at 39 years old and you're doing that! Get out of that chair, you're a bum!" With the umpire taking it on a lighter note, Connors did not just manage to escape penalty but also went on to win the match, bowing down only in the semi-finals.
Trailing 6-7 6-8 1-3 to Alexender Mronz in the third round of the Wimbledon in 1995, Jeff Tarango's outburst during the game on umpire Bruno Rebeuh drew a fine of 43,756 USD on the 26-year-old. While preparing to serve, the crowd was on its feet and disrupted Tarango's service to which he reacted, "Oh, shut up!" Without much delay, the umpire charged Tarango on grounds of audible obscenity. Protesting to Rebeuh's decision, he appealed to the tournament referee to dismiss Rebeuh for being "one of the most corrupt officials of the game". Yet again, he was penalised for his unsportsmanlike conduct. Tarango stormed off the court with his racket but the controversy didn't end. Tarango's wife invaded the court and slapped the umpire twice on his face. In a recent interview, Rebeuh disclosed his regrets of being an umpire.
Earlier, in the men's doubles of the same championship, Tarango and his partner Henrik Holm benefited when they were a set down against Jeremy Bates and Tim Henman. Henman smashed the ball of agony that hit the ball girl, leading to their disqualification. Tarango was eventually banned by ITF from the 1996 Wimbledon.
Leading his opponent Marin Cilic by a set in the finals of the AEGON Championships of 2012 at the Queen's club in England, which he had reached for the first time, the Argentine lost his cool after he found himself trailing 3-4 in the second set. He vented his anger on a linesman official who was bordered by an on-court advertising board, which eventually he kicked with the follow through hitting the judge on the shin, causing a cut and drawing blood. Subsequently, he was disqualified for this outrageous act and later fined 12,560 USD for the same. In his career, he won 11 singles titles including the Tennis Masters Cup in 2005 and two Masters 1000 tournaments. Moreover, Nalbandian is the only Argentine player in history to have reached the semifinals or better at all four Grand Slam tournaments alongside reaching the men's singles final at Wimbledon. Following the outrageous behaviour, Nalbandian issued an apology that read, "I am sorry and I regret the kick that unintentionally hurt the line judge. I never intended to hit him, it was an unfortunate reaction in which I wanted to relieve the loss of a point. I had the opportunity to apologise personally with the line judge for this regrettable event."
Mikhail Youzhny was not too pleased with his play at the 2015 French Open, so he decided that it would be better to use his racket on his head than against a tennis ball.
With his first-round match against Damir Dzumhur tied 2-2 in the first set on triple break point, Youzhny hit a backhand shot into the net and punished himself with a thorough thrashing. This isn't the first time Youzhny has reacted violently to a poor performance. He smashed his racket against his forehead and drew blood at the Sony Ericsson Open in 2008. There was also the fourth-round of the French Open in 2013 when he didn't hit himself but did annihilate his racket on a bench. Youzhny got down 6-2, 6-1 in the first two sets versus Dzumhur and then retired. It is difficult to play tennis with a migraine.
Safin has been a hot head with more controversies under his name than titles. His golden summer of 2000 was followed by a nine-year injury prone career. The then 20-year-old champion later claimed to have broken more than 50 racquets a year and not many umpires were spared from his sharp tongue.
In a match against Felix Mantilla in the 2004 French Open, Safin celebrated a vital point by happily pulling his shorts down. Even in the presence of former Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, Safin didn't bother before throwing his racquet in dejection upon his defeat to Dmitry Tursunov and exclaimed, "This is definitely not the tournament for me. I give up spending time on these courts. I give up on practising before the tournament, just to prepare myself for better results. I hate it."