The fiasco that followed David Nalbandian’s petulant kicking of an advertising board during the Aegon Men’s Singles Tennis Final at The Queen’s Club yesterday has brought to many peoples’ minds a whole host of questions, mainly philosophical and moral in nature, but not least of which is whether it was right and fitting that Nalbandian should have forfeited the whole match (and thus the Men’s Singles title) because of this action.
I believe not.
In any sport, adrenaline is a major contributing factor to both success and short lived aggression. It is a physical thing which courses through any sportsperson’s body during training and competition. Without it there would be no hunger for success, no pushing oneself to the limits and nothing to excite the crowds. It is therefore natural that after years of training to reach such sporting heights, frustration should be felt at times and natural for it to be displayed.
Unfortunately for Nalbandian his moment of frustration during his final with Marin Cilic on Sunday had the direst of consequences, not only for him and for the injured line judge but also, importantly, for the capacity crowd who had paid princely sums for their seats and for all the TV viewers settling down to a nice Sunday afternoon’s TV tennis.
Nalbandian’s obvious shock at the result of his momentary loss of control (he did go straight up to the man in question to apologise) was then compounded by the very public humiliation of being disqualified from the match, despite leading by one set to love and being very possibly poised to take the title. Tournament officials were backward in coming forward to take the microphone and attempt an explanation. The crowd, becoming more and more frenzied, chanted “Play on, play on”.
The obvious punishment for his actions would have been to forfeit a game or even a set. (Whatever happened to the code violation punishment of loss of a point?). The match would then have been played to the end and would have ensured that a worthy winner was crowned. The crowd would not have felt cheated out of their afternoon’s entertainment, Marin Cilic, should he have eventually won, would not have been cheated out of the full glory of the moment and Nalbandian would not have been cheated out of (potentially) £80,000, and (certainly) the £36,144 runner’s up prize that he was then denied. And, as if this were not already overkill on the punishment front, he was then docked 150 rankings points with a possible fine of £8,000 and now there are possible police charges of assault that he will have to answer.
The sad thing about all this is that we all know that this was an accident with no malicious intent. The old man got a nasty gash on his leg and a massive apology from Nalbandian. End of. It’s a bit like a member of a football team tripping someone up during a match and injuring them and the whole team being disqualified from the European Cup Final because of it. It just would not happen. The person concerned would be red-carded at the most but the team would play on.
Rules of this kind are made to ensure that frustration and anger do not get out of control in a public arena and code violations resulting in hefty fines and point forfeits are usually good enough deterrents or punishments. But enforcing them rigidly serves no logical purpose when every party concerned is left feeling cheated and disappointed. I am not surprised that Nalbandian hit out at the ATP in the wake of such short-sighted decisions. Their “rules are rules” stance is reminiscent of the type of jobsworth that will not serve peas with roast chicken because the chicken comes with CARROTS and it’s the FISH that comes with peas! The whole situation should have been assessed on its own merit before this decision was taken. The gravitas of the event and the number of people involved should have been taken into account. Needless to say, the tournament director was at pains to point out that he was bound by ATP rules and therefore that was that was that.
Instead of Nalbandian being viewed by the crowd as the bad boy, he got a massive reception and much sympathy. Had he been punished appropriately, the crowd would have deemed his actions unacceptable and deserving of losing a game or a set. There would have been a few boos for Nalbandian, a huge cheer for the line judge as he exited the arena and then they would have settled back down to watch a thrilling final set where nobody could complain that the eventual winner shouldn’t have won or the loser shouldn’t have lost. If Marin Cilic had eventually won, he would have been afforded much coverage in the press. In the event, he received little of the above, his moment of glory being totally overshadowed by the furore. And despite exiting with a cheque for £80,000 and some serious ATP points he himself admitted he did not feel good about it.
To summarise then, maybe the following questions should be asked:
- Did Nalbandian intend to harm the line judge? No he did not (a genuine apology and small conciliatory cheque in the post from Nalbandian himself should probably have sufficed)
- Did he intend to kick the board? Yes he did (Code violation. Immediate imposition of point / game / set forfeit.
- Did he know the board was going to break? No he did not
- Did he realise a line judge would be injured? No he did not
- Did he wish any injury on the line judge? No he did not
So taking the above into account, I believe the real question should be: did the punishment befit the action and the intended consequences thereof?
And my answer would be a resounding “No”.