Omani tennis player Fatma Al Nabhani has accused officials and staff of a $25k ITF tournament at Clermont-Ferrand of racism, claiming they mistreated her during her opening two rounds, as well as throughout the week in off-court incidents.
Al Nabhani, a 27-year-old who is the Gulf region’s first professional tennis player and has a career-high ranking of 362, posted an emotional video on her Instagram page (published above), recounting some of the incidents that happened at the event in France, and reported the situation to the ITF in an email that was shared with Sport360.
“I have been playing tennis since [I was] a little kid and participating in tournaments around the world, started to play in the pro Circuit since 2007,” read the letter.
“I have never faced racism in my life, I know this is a very sensitive topic to speak about but what I faced in Clermont, France was not acceptable.
“Being a Muslim player and from an Arab country I wear leggings under my skirt respecting my religion and feeling comfortable to compete and continue playing tennis.
“The ITF attire rule allows us to play with leggings under the knee length and I have been playing like this for the past 12 years competing in ITF and WTA [events] and I never had an issue with my attire.
“Day 1, first round match against Elsa Jacquemot from France, the French chair umpire before doing the toss looked at me and said you need to remove your leggings. I told him that I won’t remove it and I have been playing like this since 12 years he said then you can’t play. I told him please check with the tournament director before saying anything.
“The tournament director told him rules can allow her to play with leggings under the knee. So the chair umpire asked me to pull my leggings higher two inches so I can play because those two inches for him was a big deal. I pulled my leggings and didn’t say anything and played my match.”
Al Nabhani won the match in three sets but then claims she faced further trouble from a different umpire in her second round against French player Myrtille Georges.
“1. During the whole match, the chair umpire is chatting with my opponent at the changeover in French that I don’t understand and both are laughing,” said Al Nabhani in her report.
“2. Matches are played with no ball kids, whenever there is a ball inside the court I make sure to remove it before the point. My opponent refused to remove anything on her side so when I complained to the chair umpire he said it’s her side and her right, I told him at least speak to her to remove it and let’s be professional the ball is distracting me during the point, he said he can’t so the match goes on.
“7/5 6/5 up my opponent serving, I collected all the balls from the court and gave it to her. She took two balls to serve and the third one she went and pushed the ball at the net in the middle of the court because she knew it annoys me.
“First time I stayed quiet, second time I went to the chair umpire and told him if he can’t speak to her or take a decision please call the supervisor I want to speak to him, he said no I am not going to call the supervisor. I told him I can’t play like this please call him it’s my right to call the supervisor, he said no.
“3. Matches have linesmen. I understand that all chair umpire make mistakes in calls but when all mistakes are against me here is a question mark. The chair umpire during the whole match did so many mistakes against me I can’t even count them, overruling the linesmen only against me. Why???”
Al Nabhani says she had seven match points in the second set and that the chair umpire kept overruling points against her. She alleges that in at least five of the seven match points he made “wrong calls”.
“I went to him and said, ‘Please you need to be fair and you need to focus this is not acceptable’, he gives me a code violation seriously!!!!!” continued Al Nabhani.
“While my opponent keeps swearing in French and saying bad things about me that I understand and also the crowd heard it and he does Nothing !!! Just because I am complaining and asking for my right I get a code violation!!!
“The chair umpire was against me since the beginning of the match and I didn’t have the right to complain to anyone not even call the supervisor to ask him to take action either for him to speak to my opponent or watch the match or add extra linesmen or do something… it’s my simple right.”
Al Nabhani decided to walk away from the match midway through the third set because she “couldn’t take it anymore”.
“Whatever I am going to do the chair umpire was taking one side only and that’s against me. All players playing at the tournament saw the match and what happened, and everyone was surprised of the chair umpire’s actions.”
Al Nabhani also noted off-court incidents in interactions with tournament staff that made her feel there was bias against her.
The ITF has yet to respond to Al Nabhani’s email, but have informed Sport360 that the team overseeing the pro circuits and $25ks are looking into the matter.
They also told Sport360 the following in a statement: “The ITF takes any allegation of racism very seriously. In accordance with our regulations we will conduct an investigation into the matter, gathering information from all relevant parties. We will respond to the player and proceed with the matter promptly.”
In her video on Instagram (posted above), Al Nabhani referred to the umpire’s conduct, saying: “The why I was treated by him, the way I was treated by some staff in the tournament, the way I was treated the match before, why? Just because I’m Muslim, just because my mum is wearing hijab, just because I’m Arab? Well I’m Muslim, I’m proud of it, I’m Arab, I’m proud of it, I’ll stand for myself and I’ll stand for all the other players. We don’t get treated this way.”
Georges, and another player who reportedly witnessed the second-round match, have been contacted by Sport360 for comment but have not responded yet.
Serena Williams appears to have called time on her season following her meltdown at the US Open after being left out of the China Open draw on Friday.
Williams’ name, along with sister Venus, did not appear on a list of 64 players ahead of the start of the tournament in Beijing.
It comes less than three weeks after the tempestuous US Open final, where Williams accused the umpire of lying and sexism in an angry and ugly rant during her 6-2, 6-4 defeat to Japan’s Naomi Osaka.
The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion later said she wanted to “move on” from the incident, but maintained that women players could not get away with “even half of what a guy can do”.
“Right now we are not, as it’s proven, in that same position,” the 37-year-old told Australia’s Channel Ten.
“But that’s neither here nor there. I’m just trying most of all to recover from that and move on.”
The episode polarised tennis with many expressing sympathy for the US icon, while others said her behaviour was out of line.
Osaka was in tears during the victory ceremony for her first Grand Slam win as boos rang out from the New York crowd, prompting Williams to call for calm.
“We cannot measure ourselves by what we think we should also be able to get away with,” Czech-born American Martina Navratilova wrote in the New York Times.
“In fact, this is the sort of behaviour that no-one should be engaging in on the court.”
Reports from America said Williams’ season is now over, which would make it the fourth year in a row she has curtailed her playing commitments.
Last year it was due to her pregnancy, while in 2016 she called it quits after the US Open citing a shoulder injury. In 2015 she took a break after narrowly failing to win all four majors in the same year, following a shattering defeat in New York to Italy’s Roberta Vinci.
The biggest event left on the 2018 calendar is next month’s elite, eight-player WTA Finals in Singapore. Williams is currently 11th on the Race to Singapore rankings.
Andy Murray’s mum says the three-time Grand Slam champion will not rush his comeback from a hip injury that has blighted him since last year.
Former world number one Murray, who has played hardly any tennis since a hip operation earlier this year, is currently in action at the Shenzhen Open in China and will play just one more tournament this season, in Beijing.
Murray has plummeted from the top of the tennis world in 2016 to 311th in the rankings, and his mother Judy said he is “desperate” to return to full fitness.
“He’s doing well. He’s working with a rehab specialist in Philadelphia,” said the former British Fed Cup captain.
“He wants to absolutely focus the rest of the year on getting his body as ready as he can for the start of (2019).
“It’s been a long haul and that’s tough for anybody, but he’s incredibly disciplined, he’s incredibly resilient.”
Judy is in Wuhan conducting coaching workshops during the Wuhan Open.
Her son showed flashes of his old self Thursday in Shenzhen, where he swatted aside top seed David Goffin in straight sets.
While there were few visible signs in that match of the hip trouble that put him out of action, the 31-year-old’s mother said he will not take any risks.
In 2013, a year after his first Grand Slam win at the US Open, Murray became the first British player to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon in more than 75 years, and won the trophy again three years later.
“He loves what he does, so he’s desperate to get back. But… when you’ve been out that long, you don’t want to rush it,” said Judy, who coached him during his early years.
“I think he’s in a good place at the moment.”
The Scot will face Fernando Verdasco in the Shenzhen Open quarter-finals on Friday.