US Open umpire under fire after pep talk kicks off Kyrgios comeback
Australia’s Nick Kyrgios was losing big to France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert at the US Open on Thursday, and barely even trying. He didn't move while so-so serves flew by for aces. Casually put groundstrokes into the net. Double-faulted without caring.
The crowd began booing. The chair umpire, Mohamed Lahyani, decided to intervene. In an unusual sight for Grand Slam tennis, Lahyani clambered down out of his seat during a break between games, stood with hands on knees, and spoke with the 30th-seeded Kyrgios, saying, among other things, "I want to help you."
Never seen this before. Umpire had to get out of his chair and beg Nick Kyrgios to start trying in his match. pic.twitter.com/nk9k56yTrBEric Hubbs (@BarstoolHubbs) August 30, 2018
It all seemed like an impromptu intervention for the mercurial Kyrgios, right out there on Court 17 at Flushing Meadows, and it raised questions about whether Lahyani overstepped his duties as someone who's primarily there to keep score and keep order. Kyrgios went from trailing by a set and a break at the time to wresting control of the match setting up a third-round showdown against Roger Federer by coming back to beat Herbert 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-0.
"This was not his job," Herbert said, adding that he thinks Lahyani should be sanctioned in some way. "I don't think he's a coach, he's an umpire, and he should stay on his chair for that."
The US Open's referee and chief umpire were reviewing what happened, as was the Grand Slam Board. Chair umpires are never made available to the media, but tournament referee Brian Earley said Lahyani explained that he left his perch "to make sure he could communicate effectively" with Kyrgios in a noisy arena.
US Open Statement from US Open Tournament Referee on the Nick Kyrgios vs. Pierre-Hugues Herbert Match pic.twitter.com/UHKPhVeYIbUS Open Tennis (@usopen) August 30, 2018
According to Earley, the official said he wanted to check whether Kyrgios needed medical attention and to warn the player that Lahyani "would need to take action" if the "seeming lack of interest in the match continued."
During an occasionally confrontational and sarcastic exchange with reporters, Kyrgios laughed at the suggestion that he had received coaching or a pep talk from Lahyani.
"I mean, like, I don't have a coach. I haven't had a coach for, like, years. Of course he wasn't coaching me. Like, what are you talking about?" Kyrgios said.
"He said he liked me. I'm not sure if that was encouragement. He just said that it's not a good look," Kyrgios said about his chat with Lahyani. "Look. I wasn't feeling good. I know what I was doing out there wasn't good. I wasn't really listening to him, but I knew it wasn't a good look."
Here's what led to the umpire telling him to try pic.twitter.com/dFia7WvkugEric Hubbs (@BarstoolHubbs) August 30, 2018
Kyrgios, 23, has run into trouble in the past for not giving his all during matches, even drawing a fine and suspension from the ATP men's tour in 2016.
As Herbert put it: "Just sometimes he's mentally not here."
What has never been in doubt, however, is Kyrgios' talent and ability to entertain when he puts his mind to it. He burst onto the scene by stunning Rafael Nadal as a teenager at Wimbledon in 2014, and he also holds a victory over 20-time major champion Federer.
After reaching the third round by defeating France’s Benoît Paire 7-5, 6-4, 6-4, Federer criticized Lahyani for going to talk to Kyrgios for as long as he did, and from as close as he did.
Normally, a chair umpire leans over from his or her post to speak to a seated player during a changeover.
"I don't know what he said. I don't care what he said. It was not just about, 'How are you feeling?' 'Oh, I'm not feeling so well.' Go back up to the chair. He was there for too long. It's a conversation. Conversations can change your mindset. It can be a physio, a doctor, an umpire, for that matter," Federer said. "That's why it won't happen again. I think everybody knows that."
For his part, former world number one Novak Djokovic said that he believed there was nothing sinister in Lahyani's motives.
"Everybody who knows Mohamed knows he's quite different from others. He's always very positive, smiles, tries to bring that energy to the court," said Djokovic.
"Knowing Mohamed, I really don't think that he meant to do it for any other reason but to really try to help Nick to understand that if he continues doing that, he might get fined or penalty or whatever, or warning."
(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)