Another day, another incident involving David Nalbandian and an official. Only this one drew blood.
Leading Marin Cilic 7-6 (3), 3-4 in the final of the AEGON Championships at Queen’s Club in London on Sunday, Nalbandian ran and missed a forehand out wide and vented his frustration at some nearby court signage. Unfortunately for the Argentine, his court signage of choice happened to be the small wooden box that surrounds the line umpire’s chairs. And to add more misfortune, there was, shockingly, a line umpire sitting within that box. Nalbandian reared back for his best Diego Maradona impersonation and broke the signage, which then went straight into the unsuspecting umpire’s leg, causing it to bleed profusely.
Here’s video of the incident:
Nalbandian moved to apologize to the umpire, but when you do something that results in an umpire’s bleeding onto the beloved grass courts, people tend not to look the other way. The 30-year-old Nalbandian was immediately defaulted from the final for unsportsmanlike conduct, losing all of his points and prize money from the week and a possible fine of up to $10,000. Cilic won his first grass-court title, the first by a Croat on the surface since Ivo Karlovic in 2008.
This isn’t the first time this year that Nalbandian has been involved in a serious incident with tournament officials. After his disappointing loss to John Isner at the Australian Open in January, Nalbandian was fined $8,000 for reportedly throwing water on a tournament official.
As the well-heeled crowd booed and chanted for the officials to let the players finish Sunday’s match (the tournament supervisor did not come out to explain to the fans what had happened), Cilic shyly hoisted his trophy — his first of the year — and told the BBC’s Sue Barker that the win felt “bitter” and apologized to the disappointed fans. When time came for Nalbandian to give his remarks, he too apologized to the fans, owning up to the fact that he made a mistake. He then decided to use the opportunity to blast the ATP.
“First of all, I’m very sorry, very sorry to do that,” Nalbandian said. “Sometimes you get very frustrated here on court and it’s tough to control that and sometimes I do a mistake. I agree with that. It’s a very tough moment to end a final like that.
“But sometimes we feel so much pressure from the ATP, trying to play a lot of tournaments,” he continued. “Try to play in the wet conditions, the ATP does not do anything to us. Today they do a mistake, I have to play like that. Sometimes I disagree with that. I agree I do mistake. But sometimes everybody does mistakes. And I do not feel it has to end like that, especially on a final.”
When asked by Barker whether he understood the rule that required him to be defaulted, Nalbandian took one last swipe.
“But there is a lot of rules and sometimes they didn’t do anything,” he said. “The rulebook is very big and I can tell you that the ATP do a lot of mistakes, a lot of mistakes to the players and nothing happens. That’s why players disagree to the ATP.”
Nalbandian was asked later to elaborate on his complaints about the ATP. He claimed that the players have to sign an agreement at the beginning of the year that doesn’t permit them to be critical of the tour.
“If you don’t want to sign, you cannot play ATP tournaments,” Nalbandian explained to reporters. “So you don’t have chance to ask, to tell, to change something, nothing. So if you don’t sign, you don’t play and you have to agree 100 percent what the ATP says. Maybe this is not a case, maybe. But sometimes ATP puts a lot of pressure on the players, and sometimes you get injured because you play on dangerous surface and nothing happens. Keep rolling. Keep rolling all time. Nothing pay for that.”
Nalbandian might have garnered more sympathy if he had saved all of his complaints for his post-match news conference. But why go out of your way to take the spotlight off Cilic and refocus it on you when you’re the one who started the whole mess? What was could have been a memorable achievement for Cilic was made completely awkward by Nalbandian’s metaphorical “mic grab.”
Asked about his timing, choosing to go before thousands of people (millions if you count international viewers) and voice his complaints so publicly, Nalbandian kept it simple: “I will say all the times that I have to say it, because [this] is what I thought. Who says the timing is perfect? Never is perfect.”
Never is, Nalby. Never is.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Marin Cilic was the first Croat to win a grass-court title since Goran Ivanisevic.