The governing bodies of professional tennis might know what integrity in sports is, but their players and officials might need another lesson. An umpire is under scrutiny after a strange match at the U.S. Open.
Nick Kyrgios gets off to a slow start
Ever get to work and wish you could restart the day shortly after finishing your first cup of coffee? It appears that happened to the 30th-ranked tennis player in the world at the U.S. Open. Nick Kyrgios didn’t seem to be handling the New York City heat or his opponent very well and appeared as though he was giving up on the match hoping for a better match another day.
The chair umpire for the match, Mohamed Lahyani, saw this and gave the tennis player a pep talk. After the rah-rahs, Kyrgios when on to rally from behind and win the match. Kyrgios had lost the first set of his match against Pierre-Hugues Herbert and was down 3-0 before the umpire stepped in.
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/nk9k56yTrB
— Eric Hubbs (@BarstoolHubbs) August 30, 2018
Various reports say that Lahyani told Kyrgios: “I want to help you. I want to help you. I’ve seen your matches; you’re great for tennis. … Nick I know this is not you.” After the chat, Kyrgios went on to win the final three sets 7-6, 6-3, 6-0. Poor Pierre-Hugues Herbert never knew what hit him and probably could have used a pep talk himself after the fourth set.
Umpires are not coaches
It shouldn’t have to be said, but officials in sports are not coaches and shouldn’t be playing favorites for a team or player. Mohamed Lahyani appears to have been rooting for Nick Kyrgios to play better and put on a good show for tennis fans around the world. It also shouldn’t have to be said that this kind of action should be unacceptable, but here we are.
A match in a Grand Slam tournament was swung because an official took a break to encourage one player to step up his game and defeat another player. Regardless of the chair umpires intentions, this isn’t right.
Imagine an umpire in baseball stepping out from behind the plate to offer a pitcher encouragement because he couldn’t throw a strike. After the chat, the pitcher goes on to pitch six innings of two-hit baseball and the team wins. Baseball fans in this country would lose their mind that the ump helped offered encouragement and possibly a better strike zone for the pitcher.
The U.S. Open doesn’t seem to care
The U.S Open released the following statement saying that the umpire was concerned Kyrgios might need medical attention.
US Open Statement from US Open Tournament Referee on the Nick Kyrgios vs. Pierre-Hugues Herbert Match pic.twitter.com/UHKPhVeYIb
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 30, 2018
Nah, the player really just needed a pep talk. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that when the trainer arrived Kyrgios said “I don’t know, check my wrist or something … Can you just stay out here for like two minutes?” After the trainer made believe he was doing something Kyrgios went on to win the match.
Controversy in tennis continues
Questionable activity isn’t new to professional tennis. There was a betting scandal at Wimbledon earlier this year. There has actually been quite a bit of cheating in tennis lately. The Tennis Integrity Unit seems like a good idea but they don’t seem to be keeping up with corruption or even incidents that appear like potentially foul play.
This could be much ado about nothing. Pierre-Hugues Herbert doesn’t seem bothered by the mid-game chat between his opponent and umpire but he’d certainly like an explanation of what really went on.
Was the umpire cheating for Kyrgios? That’s entirely possible. It’s also possible the umpire just wanted to see a player perform to his capabilities. That’s not his job and it affects players and gamblers. The tennis tournaments and partners seem as though they want to ensure their matches are fair. Somehow, players and now an official keep getting in the way of ensuring viewers that they’re watching a sport being played on the up and up.