Umpire Mohamed Lahyani came under fire on Thursday at the US Open when he left his chair and appeared to be giving Nick Kyrgios a pep talk during the Aussie’s second round win over Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Kyrgios was trailing Herbert 4-6, 0-3 when Lahyani came down from his chair to talk to him.
The Swedish-Moroccan umpire was heard saying words of encouragement to Kyrgios, who eventually asked for the trainer and was attended to the next changeover.
“I want to help you, I want to help you,” Lahyani was overheard telling Kyrgios.
He added: “I’ve seen your matches: you’re great for tennis…
“I know this is not you.”
After the conversation that reached well beyond Lahyani’s officiating role, Kyrgios managed to turn the match around, dropping just six games of the remaining 25 to set up a third round against Roger Federer.
During his on-court interview, Kyrgios was asked about what Lahyani told him during their chat.
“He was just concerned about how I was playing, like, ‘Nick are you okay?'” replied Kyrgios, who has been dealing with a lingering hip issue and told reporters after his first round that he has been getting cortisone shots on his knees every two days.
Didn’t know umpires were allowed to give pep talks .. 🤔 https://t.co/82k0cQvwZM
— Donna Vekic (@DonnaVekic) August 30, 2018
Kyrgios later told reporters in his press conference that he doesn’t consider the conversation with Lahyani to be coaching and that it was simply a warning, similar to ones he has received in the past from other umpires, who wanted him to avoid tanking.
Asked if the chat with Lahyani had any effect on him being able to turn the match around, Kyrgios said: “Not at all. The same thing happen to me, it’s happened in Shanghai before when we all know I had that moment in Shanghai where the referee said the same thing, ‘It’s not good for the integrity of the sport, doesn’t have a good look’.
“It happens in other sports, too. In soccer, if someone is being roughed, they get warned. If you keep doing this you get penalised. Same sort of thing. It had not effect at all.”
Kyrgios added that he didn’t necessarily see it as a pep talk.
“I’m not sure it was encouragement. He said he liked me. I’m not sure if that was encouragement. He just said that it’s not a good look,” he explained. “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. It didn’t help me at all.”
Federer was questioned about the incident in his press conference after he defeated Paire, and was clear in saying it was “not Lahyani’s place” to do what he did.
“It’s not the umpire’s role to go down from the chair. But I get what he was trying to do. He behaves the way he behaves. You as an umpire take a decision on the chair, do you like it or don’t you like it. But you don’t go and speak like that, in my opinion,” said Federer.
“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.
“That’s why it won’t happen again. I think everybody knows that.”
This is not the first time Lahyani has attempted to encourage players during his matches.
In Sydney in 2016, he tried to convince Bernard Tomic to focus on his match against Teymuraz Gabashvili after the he admitted he was already looking ahead to the Australian Open since he heard he got a good draw in Melbourne.
In Wimbledon 2014, Lahyani was officiating a match between Gael Monfils and Malek Jaziri in which the former was complaining to his box throughout about not wanting to compete, and voicing his discomfort on grass.
In an attempt to give him a soft warning for tanking, Lahyani kept persuading Monfils to play seriously and the Frenchman eventually won in straight sets.
Asked if he would feel upset if Lahyani ends up getting sanctioned, Kyrgios said: “I don’t believe that he deserves it. I mean, the umpire in Shanghai didn’t cop any backlash. It happened to me in Cincinnati two weeks ago against Del Potro, the exact same thing happened. I wasn’t putting forth my best performance.
“I did the same today. The umpire was like, ‘Nick, you can’t be doing this. It’s a bad look’. Same thing happened there. I’d be disappointed, yeah, for sure.”
Meanwhile, WTA player Donna Vekic saw the video of Lahyani talking to Kyrgios on Thursday, reposted it and said: “Didn’t know umpires were allowed to give pep talks.”
Kyrgios responded to her with a tweet, then deleted it and posted a second one.
If at first you don’t succeed…fail twice. pic.twitter.com/ygqI1vOJqG
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) August 30, 2018
He then deleted the second tweet and apologised.
I shouldn’t have tweeted so quickly after the match. Everyone is entitled to an opinion but I can assure you it wasn’t coaching. https://t.co/hvlwPyzC0E
— Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) August 30, 2018
The USTA released a statement from the tournament referee that described what happened between Lahyani and Kygrios.
“With Kyrgios down 0-3, chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani left his chair to check on the condition of Nick Kyrgios. He came out of the chair because of the noise level in the stadium during the changeover to make sure he could communicate effectively with Kyrgios,” read the statement.
“Lahyani was concerned that Kyrgios might need medical attention. Lahyani told Kyrgios that if he was feeling ill, that the tournament could provide medical help. He also informed Kyrgios that if his seeming lack of interest in the match continued, that as the chair umpire, he would need to take action. He again suggested to Kyrgios that he could receive medical attention. At the next changeover, Kyrgios down 1-4, received treatment from the physio.”
Replayed footage of the physio’s visit to Kyrgios shows the Aussie telling him: “I just called the doctor. Can you just stay out for two minutes. I don’t know, just f****** check my wrist or something? Do you have some salts?”
The physio gave Kyrgios some salt packets and left.
Herbert was understandably disappointed for not maintaining his lead and was asked about Kyrgios’ conversation with Lahyani.
“On court I tried to focus on myself. I just saw that Mohamed went down at the chair. I was a little bit surprised. He went to talk to him. I didn’t listen to what they said because I tried to be focused on me, because it’s not easy to play someone who’s playing, not playing, you don’t know,” said the Frenchman.
“On court, I tried to concentrate on myself. I didn’t see what happened. I just saw that Nick from that point started to playing really, focused, 100 per cent. Yeah, then I saw what happened after the match.”
Herbert blames himself for losing, but also believes Lahyani crossed a line.
He said: “I don’t know what to think. I don’t know if something happened, if Mohamed would have said something or not, it wouldn’t have changed anything. I cannot tell you.
“I just can tell you from that point Nick was playing much better.
“Actually, the umpire doesn’t have to talk to him at all. The only thing he can tell him is, yeah, ‘Pay attention, because if you continue like this, I’m going to give you a warning’, something like this.
“They can tell him from the chair. He doesn’t need to go down. He doesn’t need to say the words he said on the video. I think this was not his job. I don’t think he’s a coach, he’s an umpire, and he should stay on his chair for that.”
Herbert added: “I don’t think he has to go down and take the position of a coach, like you see on the WTA Tour. I don’t know yet if it would have changed something. I just know he doesn’t have to do that.”
I am racking my brain to think of a situation requiring a chair umpire to speak like that to one player.
I umpired thousands of matches
I was ATP head of officiating
I can’t think of one. https://t.co/mq4bbfkVUz
— Richard Ings (@ringsau) August 30, 2018
Asked why he thinks the chair umpire felt the urge to do that, Herbert said: “I think Mohamed, he’s actually a really good umpire. I think he knows everybody. I think he cares for Nick. He cares for the show also because people were going after the first set. Everybody was there for the start. When they saw Nick in a bad mood, I would say, for the first two sets, they started going away.
“I think like everybody, I think Nick today could be an amazing player. Just sometimes he’s mentally, yeah, not here. I don’t know where he was for the first two sets. I know he was on court after when he started playing, when he kicked my ass and was much better than me.”
Meanwhile, Kyrgios is looking forward to a blockbuster third round with Federer.
“I’m going to go out there and compete my ass off,” said the 23-year-old Aussie.
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Another hot day in New York resulted in more drama across the sweltering US Open grounds.
The new men’s extreme heat policy that was introduced for the first time on Tuesday and was also in place on Wednesday caused some confusion among players and even resulted in an unfair code violation.
The rule allows men to take an off-court 10-minute break after the third set due to the hot weather conditions. The women, who have always had a heat rule, take that break after the second set.
If you’re lucky and are on Arthur Ashe stadium, or a court close to the locker room, you have enough time to take a cold shower or jump in the ice bath to cool off. But if you’re further away, those 10 minutes are ot as useful as you think.
During his four-set defeat to Daniil Medvedev on Wednesday, Stefanos Tsitsipas first forgot about the new rule and wasted nearly four minutes sat at his ench on court after winning the third set.
By the time he realized he can go take a 10-minute break anywhere with at least an AirCon, he realized he was too far from the locker room and wouldn’t have enough time.
Why did the umpire not remind him? Who knows!
“I thought to myself, six minutes more, I don’t know if I will make it to the ice bath. I was pretty far away, the court we were playing. It was not like [Novak] Djokovic yesterday who was next to the Centre Court. He just walked in the locker room and did what he did,” said Tsitsipas.
“But, no, I felt like it was a long distance for me, and it’s not necessary to spend that much going back and forth. Hopefully I’m going to use it more clever, this 10-minute break in the future, hopefully.”
Cameron Norrie was dealt a rough hand when he returned from his break during his four-set loss to Dusan Lajovic because the umpire said he had exceeded the allocated 10 minutes despite the fact that the official who was escorting him told him he was on time. Apparently the watches of the oncourt official and the one with Norrie didn’t follow the same clock and it was the Brit who paid the price in the end, receiving a time violation.
The players are also not given clear instructions on where they can go during that break. Norrie just needed a place with air-conditioning.
“I went to the media room because I know that’s where the coldest AC is. Chilled there for what I thought — I had a guy with me, showed me eight minutes. I came back and it was 9 minutes 15 on his watch. Apparently on the ref’s watch it was 10 minutes 50.
“I don’t know, with the confusion between my ref and the actual ref, I don’t know. I don’t really understand it. Apparently I got a warning. I don’t even know what that means, but…”
The match between Andy Murray and Fernando Verdasco also witnessed drama related to the rule. Murray complained to officials that Verdasco was talking to his coach during the break, which is against the rules, before the Spaniard later denied it.
“Verdasco is in the locker room with both coach and trainer, the referee and supervisor are just twiddling their thumbs. I had to tell them because no one knows the f—ing rules,” Murray told chair umpire Nico Helwerth.
The former world No. 1 later said in his press conference: “I checked the rules beforehand, and I spoke to my team. We were clear you don’t speak to your coaches whatever. They obviously weren’t in there for long, but you got to do better than that. This is one of the biggest events in the world. If you have rules like that, you need to stick with them because one player getting to speak to the coach and the other not is not fair.”
Murray added: “I went for a shower. He was having an ice bath. When I came out of the shower, his coach and his — I don’t know if he’s playing doubles with him, but one of the Spanish doubles players was in there chatting to him, and you’re not allowed to speak to your coach. I went and told the supervisor.
“I said, ‘What are you guys doing? I mean, there’s clear rules here and you’re allowing this to take place’. I don’t get it. Then he ran through, ‘Oh, you’re not allowed to speak’.”
Verdasco later told the press that he didn’t speak a single word with his coach in the locker room, but he did chat to Marcos Baghdatis and the Cypriot’s coach while they were both taking ice baths.
“I know exactly the rule and I don’t want to be the one breaking it,” insisted Verdasco.
Murray had the last word though, giving a sarcastic take on the matter on his Instagram, accompanied with the hash-tag “#liarliarpantsonfire”.
It wasn’t just the men’s side that was eventful on that front. Timea Bacsinszky told sports writer Courtney Nguyen that she wanted to change clothes off court, was taken to a public bathroom where fans were asking for autographs, couldn’t find a place to change so tried to change in the cleaners’ closet but one of the cleaning personnel got mad at her for attempting to do so.
Hardly something you want to go through during a match.
Bascinszky also raised an important point: The off-court change interrupts the changing player’s rhythm too. What should take 30 seconds ends up being a 10 minute delay (depending on your court) that the player doesn’t want, but has to take.
— Courtney Nguyen (@FortyDeuceTwits) August 29, 2018
Six retirements in men’s matches, Mikhail Youzhny helped up from the ground and escorted by medics off the court – walking backwards for some reason – Novak Djokovic and his opponent taking mid-match ice baths side by side, Alize Cornet needing assistance in the shower… The heat certainly wreaked havoc at the US Open on Tuesday.
Temperatures in Queens, New York soared to nearly 40 degrees and ESPN reported that it was 54 degrees on the court with 46 per cent humidity.
Five of the six retirements in the men’s draw were heat-related (Youzhny, Ricardas Berankis, Leonardo Mayer, Filip Krajinovic, Stefano Travaglia), and many players voiced their concerns over unsafe playing conditions.
As opposed to the women’s Extreme Heat Rule that has been in place for years, a men’s heat policy was implemented for the first at the US Open on Tuesday, allowing the men to take a 10-minute off-court break after the third set.
Still casualties were aplenty and the stories from the players painted a rough picture.
Youzhny was playing the very last Grand Slam match of his career, and it ended with him cramping and retiring against Marcos Baghdatis in the fourth set.
Malek Jaziri couldn’t sit down for his post-match interview because he was still cramping nearly an hour after his three-set defeat to Pablo Carreno Busta.
“My feet were literally burning from the side and the bottom inside my shoes from the insane heat on the court,” the Tunisian told Sport360. “I really considered retiring after the second set but luckily the temperature dropped a bit in the third so I pushed through it. I felt awful on the court, it was really tough.”
Berankis, who had to retire from his first round against Chung Hyeon with heat illness, believes matches should be canceled under such conditions but the Lithuanian doesn’t have much faith that will officials will listen to his complaints.
“Nothing will change until someone dies,” he told Tennis.com after his match.
Mayer reportedly said the same thing in Spanish to ESPN and called for ditching the best-of-five format at the Slams.
But it wasn’t just the men who suffered. Aleksandra Krunic, who came through a three-set win over Timea Bacsinszky, described the conditions as “brutal” and that other players suffered from the extreme weather.
“I saw Alize Cornet after the second set, she went to the bathroom in the locker room. She went to shower and she was breathing so heavily, I thought something happened, so I went in her shower, I’m like ‘Girl, what happened to you?’ And she’s like (gasp) ‘I can’t, I can’t’. I brought her an ice towel and stuff, it’s terrible. It really lowers the level of tennis,” Krunic told Sport360.
When Cornet returned to the court from the 10-minute break because the heat rule was in effect, she realised her shirt was worn inside out. She went to the back of the court behind the baseline and switched it around quickly but was given a code violation by the umpire for briefly taking her shirt off and revealing her sports bra.
Alize Cornet came back to court after 10 minute heat break. Had her fresh shirt on back to front. Changed at back of court. Got a code violation. Unsportsmanlike conduct….. 😳
But the men can change shirts on court. https://t.co/sCN4KDXYTb
— judy murray (@JudyMurray) August 28, 2018
Meanwhile, Krunic said she was focused more on the heat than on the actual clash with Bacsinszky. She felt she played the match on “auto-pilot” and was praying for her Swiss opponent to miss.
Krunic agrees with Berankis and believes there should be strict policies for both the men and the women that halt play altogether in extreme temperatures.
“I think if we’re canceled because of the rain or whatever – we even have tournaments in the ITF in France where the temperature is about zero indoors. And a lot of girls had their muscles torn because it’s zero degrees. We’re professional athletes and we do everything to get ready for the heat but we still have a human body, we’re not machines,” said Krunic.
“I definitely agree with Ricardas, that something should be done, there has to be a limit of heat and humidity and over that limit, like today, whatever the temperature was and very humid, and this is rubber, it’s much hotter, I think the matches should be played from 4 or 5pm. We have to wait until the temperature lowers.”
Krunic also noted that playing matches under these conditions reflects poorly on the sport.
“Maybe they’ll have some retirements in the second round because guys can’t recover, or girls. I think it’s very important to keep the level of good tennis. I think for the crowd especially with all the tickets, they pay a lot of money to come and watch us and if we can’t provide them with good level of tennis it’s not good for our sport. We can’t do it because it’s too tough. I think they should consider doing something about it because it’s just really brutal out there,” she said.
“I think first four rounds [of a Slam] at least shouldn’t be played best-of-five because that’s not for humans really. Because I think it also drops the level of tennis. Guys play good two sets then they drop the third set. I know the crowd has been saying ‘I’m going to go watch from the third set’ because they just don’t want to sit there for so long. And I really feel for these guys.”
Nick Kyrgios, who was grateful to play during the night session when the sun had already set but still said it was very hot, called for the implementation of an extreme heat rule on the men’s tour and emphasised that tennis ultimately an entertainment business that should showcase its best product.
“The heat can become dangerous at times. I don’t think we had a heat rule. We like made one up today, right?” he said after his four-set win over Radu Albot.
“That’s just ridiculous. Honestly I think we should have a heat rule. It’s not healthy for players to be out there, and getting dizzy and stuff. Not only for the players, the ball kids out there. There should be definitely a heat rule looked at and put into place. I think the players should – we’re the ones playing so…”
The Australian added: “The spectators aren’t going to watch if it’s that hot. They’re not going to be out there. There was still a lot of fans out there but at the end of the day not as many people are going to rock up to watch if it’s that hot. And it’s pretty tough for the players.”
Djokovic and Marton Fucsovics both struggled on Arthur Ashe stadium during their first round, and at times it looked like neither one of them would last the whole match.
Djokovic on what he did during the 10-minute break after the third set: ‘Marton and I were naked in the ice baths next to each other… It was quite a magnificent feeling I must say!’ 😂
— George Bellshaw (@BellshawGeorge) August 28, 2018
They both headed to the locker room for the 10-minute break after their third set and while the ice bath seemed to help Djokovic, it had a negative effect on Fucsovics, who regretted taking it.
“It wasn’t fun to play in the heat, I was dying after each point. It was too hot for tennis,” said the Hungarian, who lost the match 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.
“We sat in the ice bath and my muscles were too cold after the bath, I couldn’t come back with the same focus as in the second and third set.
“I shouldn’t have gone in the ice bath. I thought it’s going to help because usually it helps when I have the match the next day, but sitting for two minutes and then go on the court again, maybe it wasn’t the best idea.”
Fucsovics too feels they shouldn’t be playing in such conditions.
“It’s dangerous really,” he added.
Djokovic said he appreciated the USTA’s decision to implement a heat rule for the men on Tuesday but felt sorry for all the men who had to retire because of the weather.
Not everyone felt the conditions were unplayable.
“Today was fine. I played in the shade most of my match so it was okay,” said world No. 4 Alexander Zverev after his 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 victory over lucky loser Peter Polansky.
The extreme heat brought up numerous discussions including whether the shot clock should be used during such tough temperatures.
The 25-second serve clock was introduced to the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time this tournament, to limit the time players take between points before they serve. Ekaterina Makarova said on Monday, which was also hot but not as extreme, admitted that there was a bit more stress felt with the shot clock when they are playing in the heat and need longer time to recover from longer rallies.
Marin Cilic shared Makarova’s sentiments after his win over Marius Copil, who retired with a left arm strain on Tuesday.
USTA spokesperson, Chris Widmaier, addressed the media on Tuesday to discuss the heat policy that was introduced and said the shot clock will remain in use while the extreme heat policy was in effect.
“This is the first time in US Open history that we have done an extreme heat policy for men,” said Widmaier.
“The logical question is, do you now have a number for the men similar to the 30.1 Wet Bulb reading that the women have? We do not. I do not expect to be announcing that in the next day or two. We are looking at the situation, are constantly in contact with the tournament referee, Brian Earley, and constantly in contact with our medical personnel getting their input.
“So I don’t believe that we will have a concrete, written policy, if you will, on the extreme heat for men until after this US Open as we see what is happening.
“We will be doing this on a case-by-case basis, and so tomorrow we will be making that determination whether we will implement an extreme heat policy for the men for a second time. I do not have the answer whether we will do that or not right now.”