Long considered the pinnacle of tennis, and the sport’s defining tournament, Wimbledon has been the scene of some unseemly behavior in 2016.
It all began when Viktor Troicki, the No. 25 seed, made headlines late in a five-set loss to Albert Ramos-Vinolas on the first Thursday of the tournament, as he disagreed with a line call of the Spaniard’s serve at 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 2-6, *5-3 (30-30) and proceeded to melt down at umpire Damiano Torella in monumental fashion.
The match ended one point later, with Ramos-Vinolas avoiding much of the situation at the handshake as Troicki continued to argue with the Italian official post-match.
It got uglier, quickly, on Wimbledon’s second Monday — most famously known as the day where all of the tournament’s fourth round matches take the court in singles.
It was a third round doubles match on the non-streamed Court 7, though, that captured all the headlines.
In a match between No. 15 seeds Marcel Granollers and Pablo Cuevas, and 2012 Wimbledon champion Jonathan Marray and his partner Adil Shamasdin, tempers flared between the seeded pair and French umpire Aurélie Tourte late in the fifth set.
With only two bathroom breaks allowed by the rules over the course of a five-set match, Tourte did not allow Cuevas a break late in the fifth set, after which he threatened to relieve himself on court and the pair were coded for unsportsmanlike conduct. Flash-forward to 12-13 in the final set, and after Cuevas hit a ball out of court in anger, a code violation for ball abuse resulted in a point penalty to put the team down 0-40. From there, the two engaged Tourte again, refusing to play until the supervisor came on court. He did, and diffused the situation as the two played on — but just for one more point.
After the 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 14-12 win for the British-Canadian pair, The Guardian‘s Simon Cambers recapped the most controversial point of the match as follows:
The match ended in controversy, too, when Cuevas and Granollers staged a sit-down protest at 12-13, 0-40, facing three match points, after they were docked a point for a second code violation for slamming a ball out of the court. After a wait of well over five minutes the pair agreed to resume only after consulting the supervisor and promptly dropped serve and lost the match. Granollers then harangued the umpire, thrusting a ball-can in her direction, and she was accompanied off the court by a security guard.
Yahoo Canada’s Stephanie Myles also expounded on the ending:
After one final volley from Shamasdin wrapped up the big victory, it got even more intense.
Not surprisingly, Cuevas and Granollers didn’t shake Tourte’s hand. But Granollers then began to harass Tourte verbally, going after her in two separate passes.
Finally, a big, burly security official put his arm around Tourte’s shoulder and escorted her off the court.
What these two incidents have in common is this: the players involved crossed a line.
As a result of their actions on the court, all three picked up a fine: Troicki was served a $10,000 penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, while Cuevas’ two separate fines for a total of $9,000 and Granollers’ one for $7,500 collectively set them back $16,500.
While the Evening Standard reported that the largest number of fines in Wimbledon’s recent history were doled out over the first week of the Championships — with players racking up a total greater than they did in the entire tournament over the past two years — the fines the three received were nowhere close to the largest of the tournament.
Despite losing in the first round, Heather Watson picked up the largest fine to date at the Championships, earning a $12,000 penalty for smacking her racket into the court against Annika Beck, a match played over several days in which she had three match points. Serena Williams was also docked $10,000 for racket abuse in her second round match against Christina McHale; the World No. 1 repeatedly hit her racket on the grass after the first set and flung it behind her across the grass akin to a Frisbee, when it then landed rather meekly in the lap of a cameraman.
But Granollers, who was singled out in both match reports as the one who went after Tourte post-match, was fined just $500 more than Eugenie Bouchard, who picked up two arguably run-of-the-mill code violations for ball and racket abuse in her third round loss to Dominika Cibulkova.
That’s not okay.
Discuss semantics if you must — and without video of the doubles incident, it’s impossible know just what level of confrontation took place, and if security elected to step in to the situation only because Tourte is a woman — but no matter which way you slice it, the takeaway is clear: an official needing to be escorted off court for what’s perceived as their own protection is unacceptable — and despite the optics, both players were handed a punishment less severe than Watson’s.
Tennis officiating is unique among its peers in that umpires have little means of recourse to protect themselves over the course of a match, aside from issuing code violations. Cumulative defaults for behavior are rare, and more often occur as the result of a singular event.
But, act overly aggressive in a soccer game? You’re sent off.
Get in a referee’s face in a basketball game? Earn a technical foul — maybe an ejection.
Bump an umpire in a baseball game? Get tossed and suspended.
Unable to send a player off in an individual sport and without an officials’ union, tennis wouldn’t see a player defaulted and suspended for saying a female official doesn’t belong in tennis, nor would it likely see a standardized fine for unsportsmanlike conduct in criticizing an official — like the $25,000 price tag that comes with it in the NBA, regardless of the official’s gender.
An argument exists that massive fines for racket abuse or other instances of unsportsmanlike conduct that “disrupt” the grass are put in place to deter players from abusing the playing surface — and that’s a perfectly reasonable point. Grass courts aren’t average tennis courts, and great care, labor and time are required, daily, to get them in playing shape during a tournament.
But perception is reality, and handing out more severe punishments for attacking blades of grass than for conduct towards officials sends a clear message.
Multiple mainstream sports reports even completely ignored the ugly end to the Cuevas and Granollers match in particular — instead choosing to look at the “lighter” side that “Pablo Cuevas Protested His Wimbledon Match Because He Wasn’t Allowed To Pee” — and again left it out in the reports that he was fined for his threat to urinate on the court.
The crux of the issue is this: shouldn’t players be deterred just as much, if not more so, from abusing officials — their fellow, sentient humans — as they are from abusing inanimate objects like the surface, balls or rackets?
After all, the ITF Grand Slam rule book offers “Major Offence[s] of ‘Aggravated Behaviour'” for excessive violations of its Point Penalty Schedule — code violations, in umpire-speak. Incidents which are “singularly egregious” or “flagrant and particularly injurious to the success of the Grand Slam Tournament” can be penalized as such.
Do we really not consider a player invading the personal space of an umpire, repeatedly — while ‘boiling,’ and ‘not knowing’ what he’s saying — as he gets down from the chair or another berating one excessively — for following the rules as they’re written — so she can’t leave the court on her own, as “singularly egregious” events detrimental to the perception of the game?
By dishing out this kind of discipline, tennis clearly thinks they aren’t.