David Nalbandian disqualified from Queen's final
Even as the ball left his racket, David Nalbandian knew it was going out. He had just played a running forehand at break point down and was evidently going to surrender the game. Marin Cilic’s skilful service return had pinned him into the corner, and the Croatian was about to seize a crucial break in the second set. Everybody could see that. But what nobody could have foreseen was what happened next.
It was the moment the genteel pursuit of lawn tennis morphed suddenly and violently into a contact sport. Nalbandian’s momentum had taken him to the very edge of the court.
Out of the corner of his eye he would have spied a plywood advertising hoarding maybe four feet across — blue, emblazoned with the Nike tick. What he failed to spot was the modest figure of line judge Andrew McDougall, sitting in a small chair behind it.
In an instant, the frustration and rage inside Nalbandian at losing such a crucial game — and who knows what else? — exploded from him.
He aimed a huge kick at the hoarding. This was no petulant flick of the ankle. The speed at which Nalbandian was travelling — close to full pelt — would have turned his tennis shoe into a blunt and brutal weapon. It was a shot Carlos Tévez would have been proud of. “Sometimes you get angry,” he said later. “Sometimes you cannot control those moments. Maybe you throw a racket or maybe you scream or maybe you do something like that. So many things happen.”
This is what happened: the hoarding smashed into pieces, clattering into the left shin of McDougall, a balding 54-year-old gentleman in sunglasses, who recoiled instantly in pain. As the crowd gasped, Nalbandian appeared slowly to grasp the gravity of what he had just done. Officials rushed to McDougall’s aid. He pulled up the left leg of his cream trousers, smeared red like a jam scone. Blood was seeping from a one-inch gash. Courtside medical staff and members of St John Ambulance were summoned but, ultimately, McDougall was able to depart the scene with nothing more than a bandage and an unbeatable anecdote.
Tournament director Chris Kermode and ATP supervisor Tom Barnes took to the court. They spoke to Nalbandian for several minutes, but they had only one realistic option.
Under Rule 8.03, section M, subsection 4g, part i) (“unsportsmanlike conduct”), Nalbandian was disqualified. Cilic was awarded the title by default. The Croatian was, unsurprisingly, dissatisfied. “To end the week like this feels a bit bitter,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to happen in the next hundred years, for sure.”