In this modern age of collegiality and sportsmanship — call it the Roger Federer effect — it’s insane to even consider a top-ranked player defaulting a match just because he felt like it. Yet that’s precisely what happened 28 years ago today when the one and only Jimmy Connors stormed off the court late in the fifth set of a semifinal against Ivan Lendl at the 1986 Lipton International Players Championships in Boca Raton, Fla. The source of Connors’ ire? The umpiring, of course.
In a testy match that included code violations for both players, the fourth-ranked Connors lashed out at chair umpire Jeremy Shales during a dispute over a line call with No. 1 Lendl leading 3-2, 30-love in the fifth set.
Here’s what went down, according to The New York Times:
Connors charged the umpire’s chair and demanded that the supervisor of officials, Ken Farrar, and the tournament referee, Alan Mills, be summoned immediately. But because the dispute involved a judgment call, there was no reason for Shales to summon them. Instead, he advised Connors to resume play or face the consequences.
After Connors was penalized a point and then a game to fall behind, 5-2, Mills and Farrar walked onto the court and told Connors he had no recourse in this instance. Farrar told him it was in his best interests to play. But Connors refused, sitting down and letting time expire. He then packed his racquets and marched off the court to cheers and applause from the crowd.
The Times noted that Shales “gave [Connors] a point penalty for a time violation, then three code violations for a continued delay. Finally, after Connors had exhausted all the time he was allotted by the rules to resume play, Shales defaulted him.”
Lendl’s winning score reads 1-6, 6-1, 6-2, 2-6, 5-2 DEF.
You can watch Connors’ tantrum below (it’s the first four minutes) — a meltdown that led to $25,000 in fines and a 10-week suspension.
“You can only take so much,” Connors said after the match. “I’m out there giving my blood. I felt I was sticking up for my rights. All I want [Shales] to do is pay attention. If he’s paying attention on only one side of the court, that’s not good enough. If there’s incompetence out there, you get somebody competent to do the job.”
Connors recalled the match in his book, The Outsider, and let’s just say he didn’t exactly sweat the punishment.
“The things you have to do to get some time off, right?” he writes. “Anyway, the suspension I received was an opportunity for me to play a couple of special events and a half a dozen exhibitions. I made a hell of a lot more money than I would have playing the tournaments.”
Lendl went on to beat No. 3 Mats Wilander in the final.
Video via YouTube user royaldoyal