Yet Another Take on Nalbandian at Queens

Just off the top of my head, these are my thoughts about what happened in the Nalby-Cilic final at Queens—

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

The Basic Facts:

After being up a set, Nalbandian was defaulted in his final at Queens, thus handing Marin Cilic the title.  Despite being up a set, Nalby was frustrated with the conditions and after going down a break in the 2nd set, he showed this by kicking the ad stand at the side of the court.  The stand was right in front of a linesman, Andrew McDougall, and the splintering wood cut McDougall’s leg, causing a notable amount of bleeding.

Given that Nalby had acted in a reckless way and caused injury to a linesman, the obvious choice was to default Nalby.  Cilic was the 2012 Queens champion.

To make matters worse, Nalby coughed up a roller-coaster of an apology at the trophy ceremony.  Let’s just establish one thing clearly: Nalby was apologetic about his action.  After the incident, he seemed genuinely embarrassed by and conscious of the wrong he had done.  However, in the second half of his interview, Nalby burned through his chances of retaining any goodwill, by publicly taking issue with the ATP and its rulebook.

He went on a lengthy tirade against the ATP.  I can’t begin to describe how hard I was cringing throughout the latter half of his speech. This was clearly not the time or place to air his grievances against the ATP, and I kept wishing someone from his box would run up to shut his mouth.  In the public eye, Nalby nullified any goodwill he had gained by being contrite in the immediate aftermath.  For that, he deserves criticism.

The Consequences:

When it comes to the appropriate punishment, the matter of whether or not Nalby intended to cause harm is not that important.  He deserved the default and he deserves to lose his ranking points from Queens, along with his prize money.  The additional $10,000 fine is also appropriate.

If I were a lineswoman, and a tennis player, in a fit of anger (however inadvertently), caused my leg to bleed, I would want that player to be punished.  I would also want that player to cover my medical bills and any further treatment.  The estimated $70,000 that Nalby loses, on top of his loss of ranking points, seems suitable to the offense.

So far, it’s clear cut enough.  For sure, I’m very disappointed in Nalby’s rash action.  I also rue the fact that he got in his own way of winning his 12th title, his first title on grass (which would have given him titles on all surfaces), and a possible seeding at Wimby this year.  Also, what bothers me is the fact that he delivered a great apology until halfway in his speech, before completely derailing.  The apology was going well, before he gut-wrenchingly lost the plot.

More Problems:

As if Nalby’s actions weren’t bad enough, what followed afterwards was also troubling.  The Twitter universe began to resemble a shark tank, with people swarming and pitching in with whatever insult they’d had pent up—Nalby became the devil who had intentionally kicked the linesman.  Journos like Cronin aired opinions that went beyond the match—this is plain unprofessional and unnecessary.

What Nalby did was wrong, but that doesn’t give free rein for everyone and their mother to alter facts according to their wishes.  You can call Nalby idiotic, but to call him the incarnation of malicious evil is false.  Let’s not pretend that distinction is lost on us.  He deserved the default, but let’s not the pretend the distinction of intent is lost on us.

Also, regarding the comparisons being made to Nalbandian’s kick and attempted manslaughter?  That’s over-the-top.  If the linesman broke his leg, if he endured a head butt to the chest, or if he required stitches, I’d suffer the analogy.  For a bloody scrape though—really, we’re going to compare his action to manslaughter?  Hyperbole, much?

As tennis fans, we have no power to change anything that happens on the court (this rule, oddly enough, also applies to journalists).  What we can do is interpret what happens in as correct a way as possible, and I think there were too many who were hell-bent on doing something else.  If the incident weren’t distressing in itself to watch, the post-match Twitterati certainly added to it.

I don’t want to downplay the harm caused to the linesman.  But let’s examine this with a proper dose of perspective—the linesman wasn’t grievously injured.  He showed up to work the next day to call the qualifying matches at Wimbledon.  I certainly feel sorry for what he had to undergo.  But if we’re following the logic that “Because Nalby caused harm, he must therefore be vilified,” shouldn’t we at least gauge the extent of the actual harm caused to the linesman?  The facts: McDougall didn’t need stitches and he didn’t have to go to the hospital.  I don’t want to sound callous, but football players get their heads stapled during matches (and they don’t file lawsuits afterwards).

Maybe it’s the non-contact nature of tennis that makes the sight of blood so titillating to tennis fans, many of whom spoke as if some serious bodily harm had been caused (if only to feed their own outrage).  The whole Nalbandian-kicking-the-ad-stand incident should not have happened, and hopefully Nalby makes adjustments to his on-court behavior (at 30 y.o., the sooner the better).  In the big picture though, it was surprising to see some of the overcooked appraisals that were given after this incident.

I also can’t bring myself to agree with those who compare this incident to how they’d behave at their 9-5 or 8-2am jobs.  It’s sport.  It’s a non-contact sport, but it still takes places within confines that are, by nature, more highly charged than our office spaces (And yes, I’ve pulled my fair share of all-nighters doing frustrating and unpredictable work in a highly competitive work environment with difficult characters.  I still say it’s different from sport.  Look up to athletes and look down on athletes in moderation — but let’s not commit the error of pretending we know what the actual experience is like).

Also, let’s remember there are others who have done as worse, yet have been redeemed in the public eye.  Grigor Dimitrov (the fairytale Queens story of the week) once intentionally shoved a chair umpire after losing a match.  Everyone’s favorite choirboy Tim Henman had a similar incident to Nalby, when he was defaulted for throwing a ball in the air, that unintentionally hit a ball girl in the face.  I don’t remember viewing those incidents as cause to stage an all-out attack on their character, upbringing and values.  I wish others would exercise the same caution before digging in.

My overall point is this—let’s just get the facts straight.  I don’t think there are any Nalby fans out there who’d argue that he didn’t deserve the default.  He does tend to skirt the line of proper and improper behavior during his matches.  I don’t think there are too many Nalby fans who’d try to defend what he said in the latter half of his speech at Queens either.  He is certainly a flawed character*, and he fully deserves the consequences of what he did at Queens.  I realize that, and I think most Nalby fans do too.  Nalby was lucky that his outburst didn’t cause more harm to the linesman.  He may not be so “lucky” in the future.  We should all be thankful that the linesman is fine, and move on with it.  Let’s not get too carried away perching ourselves on a pedestal (not if we’re giving Dimitrov B+ grades for his week at Queens, given his previous transgression**).

Oddly enough, the Queens tournament director and the ATP supervisor have been very sensible voices of reason throughout the entire matter.  They’ve balanced their rightful criticisms of Nalby with the circumstances particular to that incident.

Martina Navratilova also spoke about the incident by pointing out that Nalby aimed to kick the box, not the line judge.  In a radio interview, former tennis player and ex-President of the ATP Council Jonas Bjorkman spoke about the incident—Bjorkman’s view was also that Nalby deserved his fines, but that a suspension was overboard.  Andy Murray also offered his balanced view and gave a thoughtful overview of the incident — he said that although what Nalby did was wrong, the tourny should never have interviewed Nalby right after the match.  Muzz’s statements stood out to me because it never sounded like he was rushing to leap on a high-horse — he offers criticism with some consideration for other factors.

Update: In troublesome news, it appears the linesman Andrew McDougall has filed a police complaint against Nalbandian for assault.  He claims Nalby’s kick was an assault and now the police are investigating.  Wimby have also sent McDougall home from their grounds, so that he may rest and recuperate.


*What’s funny is that after DelPo lost that rocky QF to Fed at RG two weeks ago, I’d been thinking how DelPo was quickly catching up to Nalby in terms of total hours spent agonizing over a tennis player.  I’ve now been reminded that Nalby (due in part to his being 6 years older than DelPo) will always maintain the lead in that contest.  Thank you, DelPo, you kind of are a saint in comparison (just be careful where you throw your shoes at Wimbledon!)

** Dimitrov is lucky in the sense that there are no available YouTube clips of him shoving and swearing at the chair umpire, after his loss to Richard Berankis.


About mariposaxprs

I play favorites with Juan Martin Del Potro, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, Gilles Simon and the long line of mercurial talent that drives me to despair in front of the screen at odd hours during the week.
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9 Responses to Yet Another Take on Nalbandian at Queens

  1. queridorafa says:

    Really liked reading your thoughts on this! A complicated situation made all the more complicated by the reaction (or maybe it’s not that complicated, and the media just made it complicated?? So confused at this point! 😉 ) Hadn’t seen that note in SI BTB–yeah, very strange comparison there. (and Emma–I remember what you’re referring to, and was absolutely astounded by the fact a letter making that comparison was chosen and printed, even if the assertion was denounced in the response. It was so ludicrous and insulting (on many different levels!), it never should have been printed in the first place!). I do feel for the linesman, but I’m surprised he filed a complaint. Hopefully it will get resolved quickly.

    • mariposaxprs says:

      Thanks, QR!! It is a right old mess of a situation. I feel like the media definitely made things a bit more complicated here. While Nalby deserves flak, some of the flak he’s getting seems to reveal a decade-long hatred of him by certain people. It’s a bit too much.

      I haven’t actually read the Wertheim mailbag Emma’s referring to, but I’ll have to search for it, and see why he included that link between a serious crime…and on-court coaching! I understand Wertheim used to be a lawyer, but there are more plausible ways to illustrate a point using legal examples other than manslaughter, etc.

      I hope too that nothing comes out of the linesman’s complaint. I read that Nalby’s personally apologized to him. I hope Nalby offers to pay for any medical or even cosmetic treatment for the scrape he caused. It would go a long way!

  2. Iram says:

    First thing is first, Mariposaxprs it must be told that u r a brilliant writer. I love reading ur blog. My husband sometimes reads it too. He says “Iram, the difference between your blog and hers is that she actually writes about tennis.” Then he goes on to say that my blog is sleazy and I like to post pics of shirtless guys. (which is unfair, I’ve only done that a couple times!) 😛

    Okay, on to what really matters. I think your opinions were spot on. Nalby was hit hard by all the media. I don’t even think he deserved the boos. The thing is that out of anger he kicked- if a tree was there he would have kicked a tree. He isn’t a malicious person, and I know he didn’t mean to hurt the guy. I remember Ferrer kicking the umpires chair 2 years ago during the quarterfinals in the Davis Cup against Monfils. And I don’t think he got any violation for that.

    I’m not sure where you live, but the news here has really picked up on the story. I live in U.S.A. and have concluded that this country isn’t that big on tennis. (As it is baseball, NBA, or NFL). Heck the media doesn’t even acknowledge its own American players. But this act caught the main page of Yahoo today. Not only that, my local news station covered it. And that’s huge- I live in Southern California and there’s the UCLA tournament that occurs annually. That NEVER gets air, but this incident did. So what I’m trying to say is this story is starting to blow out of proportion.

    I’ll end (you’re prolly thinking thank God) by saying I hope David doesn’t get in trouble by actual law. He seems to be like a good person and any further prosecution would just be a shame. i don’t want the end of his career to spiral downwards. And for heavens sakes, if at Wimby Andrew is the line judge and is monitoring Nalby’s match, he should politely excuse himself.

    • mariposaxprs says:

      Thanks for your kind comments, Iram! I guess my mixed feelings and anger over the way people reacted to the incident at Queens got me writing a long post—thanks for reading through it all!!!

      That’s very awesome that your husband is also a tennis fan! I am very much interested in the shirtless fashion photos of tennis plyrs (Feli & Ferru are a hard-to-resist combo ;)). I think even hardcore male tennis fans (who are straight) also end up getting involved with the on-court fashion choices of their favorite players 😉

      It’s sad this incident will now be what a lot of the media remembers most about Nalby. While some of the analyses were objective and balanced, there were others that made me defensive of Nalby. I agree, Nalby isn’t a bad person, even if what he did was wrong. I’m Korean and this incident even made it to the sports news sections in Korea! (Korea hasn’t had a top 100 player since 2009). Still, what I liked about the Korean news coverage was that it was very matter-of-fact, instead of over-emotional like some of the other media. I agree, I really hope the police charge doesn’t end up being anything serious—that would be seriously overboard.

      Also, it must be awesome to live near UCLA! What with the tennis tournament, on top of the other stuff too!

  3. *Begin slow clap while slowly standing up.*

    Well done Mariposaxprs! I have been waiting for your thoughts on the whole Nalby situation, and you do not disappoint!

    You’re absolutely right that fans can take things way out of proportion. Two years ago, someone writing to Jon Wertheim compared receiving illegal coaching during a match to rape. I’m not kidding.

    It sounds as though the ATP and the tournament have actually handled the situation very well. If only we could do the same!

    • mariposaxprs says:

      Thanks, Emma!

      I’d been meaning to write something about it, but needed to organize my thoughts. Hopefully, what I wrote sounds coherent!

      It’s many of the fans’ perspectives that left me with a strange feeling, so I wanted to address that. The illegal coaching comparison seems *way* out there. I can see how using an example can illustrate a point, but sometimes people need to make sure the example they give is somewhat similar to the point being discussed. There’s no use comparing serious crimes to what happened in Nalby’s case (since the linesman was not all that injured afterwards). Hopefully, the hysteria will die down soon and people will have a more reasonable take on the matter! For that I’ll wait!

      • Oh it was well, well worth the wait! And I agree completely; it’s one thing to say that he should be fined, or even suspended, but to compare this to manslaughter?! Lest people forget, manslaughter has to result in the death of the victim, the linesman is perfectly alive from what I gather.

        • mariposaxprs says:

          Yea, some people are going a bit overboard in their assessments. I’m hoping Nalby shows his more human side in the next few months—that will help everyone calm down.

          I’ll have to read the Wertheim column where he answers the question about on-court coaching and rape. That someone would even link those two is just wrong!! It goes to show the flimsy associations people will make =/

          • Yep, people do need to calm down, and I hope Nalby helps in that regard. He needs to lay low and be especially human and sympathetic.

            The on court coaching comparison to rape was in the fall of 2010, can’t remember which one exactly.

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