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