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Game, Set, DEFAULT? Ten Tennis DQs To Remember

Most matches end with a handshake. Some even with a hug. But a very small number finish somewhere in the middle after decidedly unexpected moments . With that in mind, TTI looks back at ten of the most (in)famous defaults in the light of a recent event.

It was a busy week in the tennis world, with five tournaments on the WTA and ATP – but earlier this week, it was a smaller event in Surprise, Arizona, that was, well, surprising. In the second round, Susanne Celik found herself disqualified in a match against 2014 US Open “it girl” CiCi Bellis. Early in the final set, the Swedish No. 3 hit a ball after a rally, but framed it and ended up hitting a line judge. Jeff Sikes attended the tournament and reported the incident:

A day later, Celik herself talked to and explained her version of events. The Swede insisted that she never hit the ball out of frustration, that the whole thing was just an unfortunate mishap. I’ve done a full translation of the interview, which you can read here. The lack of video evidence certainly doesn’t help, and even though the 20-year-old is seeking a solution to this affair, it’s unlikely to reverse her disqualification.

The World No. 230 wasn’t the first player to earn the ignominious mid-match default; here’s a look through the last 25 years of tennis history, featuring some of the more high-profile disqualifications – along with a few lesser known incidents.

10. John McEnroe – 1990 Australian Open, 4R

Is anyone surprised that the outspoken American was the first player to be disqualified from a match in the Open Era?

Probably not.

The 1990 Australian Open’s No. 4 seed had only made the trip Down Under for the fourth time in 14 years. In his fourth round match, the game’s enfant terrible pulled his familiar stunts: he intimidated officials, chucked racquets and, after swearing at the officials, was ultimately defaulted from the match. The seven-time major champion didn’t know that, unlike in previous years, three warnings were now sufficient grounds for disqualification.

And that, tennis kids, is why you never begin a year without looking at changes in #darulez.

9. David Nalbandian – 2012 Queen’s Club, F

Is this one of the most bizarre defaults in recent memory? Probably. It’s hard to believe it’s already been two-and-a-half years since the mercurial Argentine added this incident to his resumé.

Where do we begin?

It was the only time a player got disqualified in a finals. The former Wimbledon finalist then attempted to blame the incident on external pressures from the ATP during the trophy ceremony. The fact that a line judge ended up with a bloody shin at the prestigious and pristine greens of Queen’s only just adds to this default’s infamy.

8. Anastasia Rodionova – 2007 Cincinnati, 1R

Should anyone be shocked that the then-Russian/now-Australian ended up being disqualified from a match in her career?

Probably not.

The hot-headed elder Rodionova sister had already complained to the chair umpire about the noise during points from a particular group of fans, those cheering for opponent Angelique Kerber. After losing the first game of the final set, Rodionova smacked a ball across the court, hitting the support wall separating stands and court in front of the Kerber fans in question.

Chair umpire Yvette Kahn then called upon tournament referee William Coffey, who thought Rodionova’s behavior “was disrespectful and potentially very dangerous,” thus justifying a default without prior warning. The Australian explained she didn’t intend to hit the fans but wanted to vent frustration. She also said those afraid of the ball shouldn’t sit in the front-row.

Oh Nastya. 

7. Darian King – 2014 Charlottesville Challenger, 1R

Should anyone toss their racquet right into the tarp next to the line judge? Probably not.

This incident went viral just a few months ago, and while King’s racquet definitely hit the line judge – thus making the default is absolutely legitimate – it was a bit of a weird one.

Watch for yourselves:

6. Irina Spirlea – 1996 Palermo, 2R

Has it ever been a good idea to mess with Irina Spirlea? Probably not.

The Romanian was the first woman to be defaulted in a WTA match of any kind. During a second round encounter with Stephanie De Ville, the 1997 US Open semifinalist got into a verbal spat with a linesman after arguing over a call in the first game of the final set.

Spirlea ended up getting disqualified and was fined $10,000 – more than half of Palermo’s prize money for the winner, and a rather hefty amount at the time.

5. Stefan Koubek – 2010 Austria League, TC Gleisdorf vs. UTC Straßburg

Is this one of the most forgotten disqualifications in tennis history? Probably.

In this Austria League tie between Gleisdorf and Straßburg, Stefan Koubek lost his cool after opponent Daniel Köllerer allegedly called him a “wanker” during a changeover, which went unnoticed by the chair umpire. Koubek went over to Köllerer’s bench and “massaged his throat,” as he put it himself. After this incident, tie supervisor Kurt Gogg went on to default him. The former Top 20 player later apologized to the crowd and his team – but not to his compatriot. Köllerer was later banned from the sport for match-fixing.

In other news, Koubek has been announced as new Austrian Davis Cup Captain last month. #oh

4. Andre Agassi – 1996 Indianapolis, 2R

Is constant swearing going to catch up with you at some point? Probably.

A few weeks after winning the Olympic Gold medal in Atlanta, Andre Agassi found himself disqualified in a match against Daniel Nestor in Indianapolis. The eight-time major champion smacked a ball into the stands, earning a ball abuse warning to which he did not take kindly.

The American marched up to the chair of Dana Loconto and verbally unloaded on the umpire, telling him to go tuck himself. But, you know, with an ‘f’ instead of a ‘t.’ ATP Tour supervisor Mark Darby instructed Loconto to default Agassi, which happened under a cover of boos from the crowd. The Indianapolis organizers pleaded with Darby to rethink his decision – the top American star was their event’s biggest name – but to no avail. In his press conference, the top seed later went on to say that it wasn’t Loconto’s fault but the “wrong call” of an inept supervisor. Mind, Agassi had a lot of thoughts in that post-match interview. Read it, it’s entertaining.

It wasn’t the first time the American was flirting with disqualification though. Remember this?

3. Olga Puchkova – 2013 Citi Open Washington, 2R

Does smacking the ball through the court without looking sound like a good idea? Probably not.

Olga Puchkova was on her way out of the Citi Open anyway.

After eliminating Sloane Stephens earlier in the week, the Russian was down a set and a break in the second round of the Washington tournament. But things went from bad to worse. After a double fault she caught the ball and hit it angrily to the side – right into a line judge. One can tell by the Russian’s reaction that she absolutely didn’t mean for it to happen but it doesn’t change the fact that the official and referee had no choice but to default the 27-year-old from the match. The up-and-down Puchkova had been on an upswing – back inside the Top 100 after a 2007 career-high of N0. 32 – but the incident threw the Russian into a tailspin and she hasn’t been the same since, down to a disastrous No. 719.

2. Carsten Arriens – …multiple times

Has there ever been a player who has been defaulted multiple times? Definitely.

Embed from Getty Images

The former German Davis Cup Captain was disqualified from matches 4 times, the most well known incident being his first round “loss” to Brett Steven at the 1995 French Open. Arriens first tossed his racquet from the baseline into the net, receiving a warning, then hurled the racquet at the chair but it ricocheted, catching the ankle of a linesman. The tournament referee then proceeded to disqualify the former World No. 109.

1. The double default of Wimbledon ’95 – Tim Henman and Jeff Tarango

Did anyone ever think a Brit would be disqualified at Wimbledon? Probably not.

But it happened anyway. In one of the better known defaults in tennis history, Tim Henman smacked a ball out of frustration, hitting ballgirl Carolina Hall in the head as she was running across the court. Similar to Puchkova two decades later, it was extremely unfortunate, but ultimately proof that there’s a reason why ball abuse is a code violation – and not a joke. As a result, Henman and partner Jeremy Bates were disqualified, sending Jeff Tarago and Henrik Holm into the second round.

Was it the last memorable moment of the Championships? Probably not.

Fun fact: Caroline Hall was on court for another bizarre match at that year’s SW19. As a ball girl, she brought none other than Jeff Tarango, beneficiary of Henman’s doubles disqualification, some bananas during his third round match. The American famously walked off the court, feeling umpire Bruno Rebeuh wasn’t doing his job properly. Rebeuh went on to default the former world No. 42 for choosing not to finish the match.

Later in the press conference, Tarango insinuated that the Rebeuh was corrupt. Tarango’s wife confirmed she slapped the French official after the match – “And I think it’s good,” Benedicte Tarango declared.

Oh it was GLORIOUS:

Did we forget any interesting or bizarre disqualifications? Sound off in the comments!

About René Denfeld (202 Articles)
Weather is my business. Tennis is my playground. Born in the year of the Golden Slam. Just give me all the bacon and eggs you have.

5 Comments on Game, Set, DEFAULT? Ten Tennis DQs To Remember

  1. Massage…..the…throat…

    Well, that doesnt sound bad at all? He was doing his opponent a service. Why would you disqualify anyone for that?


  2. Many, many moons ago, wasn’t Ivanisevic defaulted in a match for smashing all of his racquets and not having any more to continue play?

    Liked by 1 person

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