Down the Line: All players should learn from Shapovalov's mistake

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Umpire Gabas holds ice to his face after being hit in the eye by a ball from Shapovalov (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP)

We’ve been seeing it happen over and over again. A player loses his or her temper then tosses a ball, or even worse, a racquet, in anger and frustration during a match.

Sometimes the ball or racquet is hurled towards the crowd, other times it’s in the direction of a ballkid or line umpire.

More often than not, the consequence of that fit of rage is minimal: no one gets hurt, a player receives a code violation warning and everyone moves on. Except that’s not what happened during the fifth rubber of the Davis Cup World Group first round tie between Great Britain and Canada last Sunday.

The video of Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov accidentally injuring chair umpire Arnaud Gabas with a ball that powerfully hit the Frenchman’s eye has naturally gone viral.

From Gabas’ bloody eye, to Shapovalov’s stunned face, the whole scene saw Davis Cup weekend in Ottawa end on a terribly sour note.

The 17-year-old Shapovalov obviously did not intend to hit Gabas with the ball that way; still this unintentional act could have potentially ended the umpire’s career that primarily depends on his vision to properly officiate a match.

Luckily, there was no damage to Gabas’ cornea or retina, and Shapovalov was defaulted from the match and later fined $7,000, less than the maximum $12,000 that can be handed out in such situations. This incident has come at a time where safety has been a hot topic of discussion in recent months.

Just two weeks ago, Italian junior Maria Vittoria Viviani got disqualified from her Australian Open first round match against Chinese opponent Xin Yu Wang in the girls’ singles draw because she accidentally threw a ball at a ballkid.

She did not do it with any force the way Shapovalov did but the umpire was in an unforgiving mood and expelled her from the contest.

Novak Djokovic got testy when he was quizzed by reporters during last November’s ATP World Tour Finals about a ball he tossed in frustration towards the stands.

Nick Kyrgios accidentally bounced his racquet into the crowd during Wimbledon 2015, while Jelena Ostapenko escaped a default when she flung her racquet towards a ballkid in Auckland last year. Current world No1 Andy Murray narrowly missed hitting an umpire with a ball last season in Cincinnati.

So often now it feels like there is a tennis match happening on court and an accompanying game of dodgeball taking place on the sidelines as ballkids, umpires and spectators in the stands try to avoid getting hit by a ball or racquet.

The fact that many of these players have not actually injured someone does not mean such actions should go unpunished because as Shapovalov learned the hard way: accidents can happen and can result in terrible consequences.

This type of recklessness is being propagated by many top players who act in this way and get away with it, and it is enabled by the officials who don’t punish it.

Players will only become more careful in their angry reactions on court when such behaviour is consistently being reprimanded.

Shapovalov’s incident should serve as an eye-opener for all players and it’s kind of unfortunate that it was the young, inexperienced player who ended up learning this lesson on behalf of all his peers.

It is impossible for us spectators to understand the frustration and pressure felt by athletes during competition and in many cases, no harm is done by a simple ball toss or racquet smash.

But the fact that a small chance exists that someone can get hurt the way Gabas did means such behaviour should be punishable, unacceptable, and treated in the same manner across the board without giving leeway to the higher-ranked players.

Let’s hope all players can learn something from Shapovalov’s unfortunate incident.

Picks of the Week

Hero of the week
Steve Darcis ‘The Shark’ led Belgium to an unexpected upset over Germany in the first round of Davis Cup World Group as he beat both of his higher-ranked opponents, Philipp Kohlschreiber and Alexander Zverev to hand his country its first victory in nine ties against Germany.

Match of the week
Kristina Mladenovic v Yulia Putintseva
The St. Petersburg final was a match of contrasting styles, incredible shot-making, and lots of momentum swings and ended with Mladenovic claiming her first-ever WTA title thanks to her 6-2, 6-7(3), 6-4 win. The Frenchwoman hit 62 winners to her 46 unforced errors while Putintseva fired 32 winners of her own.

Stat of the Week
1 – only one of the world’s top-14 players took part in Davis Cup last weekend (two had no ties, 11 ditched it): Novak Djokovic.

Escape of the week
Elina Svitolina v Ons Jabeur
The Ukrainian world No13 saved four match points in her highly-entertaining win in the Taiwan quarters against Tunisian Jabeur, who dazzled with some sublime drop shots before falling to an opponent ranked over 150 spots higher than her. Svitolina went on to win the title.

Quote of the week
“I came off the court looking like Rocky Balboa… Players can be a bit crazy these days. I could see he was angry and that something was coming but I never thought he would hit me.” – Umpire Arnaud Gabas after getting hit in the eye by Shapovalov’s angry shot.

Tweets of the week

— Eugenie Bouchard surely regrets betting against Tom Brady and the Patriots

— Freshly-crowned Australian Open champions Serena Williams hung out with new mom Victoria Azarenka.

Week ahead
Fed Cup
Expect a mouth-watering clash between a Garbine Muguruza-led Spain and a Karolina Pliskova-led Czech Republic in Ostrava. France v Switzerland will also feature some interesting match-ups.


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IN PICTURES: Australian Open Day 1

Sport360 staff 16/01/2017

Swiss 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer won his first match at the Australian Open Monday after coming off a injury-blighted 2016.

Federer downed his one-time junior rival Jurgen Melzer of Austria 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in 2hr 6min on Rod Laver Arena.

The Swiss 17th seed will now play American qualifier Noah Rubin in the second round.

Andy Murray ground out a hard-earned straight sets win over plucky Illya Marchenko to open his campaign for a first title in Melbourne. The world number one, who has lost five Australian finals - four of them to Novak Djokovic - carved out a 7-5, 7-6 (7/5), 6-2 victory.
It was an unforgiving physical workout for the British top seed, who fought back after a wobbly beginning to wear down his 93rd-ranked Ukrainian opponent in draining heat. Elsewhere, there were wins for Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, Tomas Berdych, Nick Kyrgios and Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri.
In the women’s singles, world number one Angelique Kerber battled past Lesia Tsurenko to get her first Grand Slam title defence off to a stuttering start. The top seed ultimately proved too much for the Ukrainian, winning 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena, but the laboured victory was less than impressive from the German. Meanwhile, Simona Halep fell victim to the first shock of the competition after the number four seed was dumped out by American Shelby Rogers. Halep had been one of the favourites to challenge for the title in Melbourne but the Romanian was beaten 6-3 6-1 by Rogers. It is the second year running Halep has endured a first-round defeat here after she lost to Japan's Shuai Zhang 12 months ago. Rogers goes through to meet either Australian wildcard Ashleigh Barty or Germany's Annika Beck in round two.

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DEBATE: Can Nick Kyrgios win a Grand Slam title?

Sport360 staff 16/01/2017
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Kyrgios has yet to go beyond the quarter-final stage of a Grand Slam.

17-time major winner Roger Federer believes the 21-year-old doesn’t have what it takes to win a Grand Slam crown just yet, but the Swiss admitted he’d be happy to be proved wrong.

Federer, who has previously trained with the controversial Canberra-born star in Dubai, faced similar issues with on-court behaviour during his early 20s.

And ahead of the Australian Open, can Kyrgios answer his critics and win a maiden major title on home soil?

Let us know your thoughts as our two writers debate his future.

Share with us your thoughts by commenting below, using #360fans on Twitter or getting in touch via Facebook.

Reem Abulleil, News Editor and Tennis reporter, SAYS YES

In this current era of men’s tennis, winning a grand slam has seemingly become this exclusive right reserved only for a handful of players.

Initially a ‘Big Four’ honour that widened its acceptance list to include Marin Cilic and Stan Wawrinka, the grand slam club has been near-impossible to rattle.

So it’s understandable when people say a talent like Nick Kyrgios is not ready to win a major yet, simply because barely anyone has managed to snatch one from the Big Four’s teeth since mid-2005, barring the two mentioned above.

But the way I see it, Kyrgios is not your typical player and he does not fit in any specific mould.

This is a guy who reached the quarterfinals on his Wimbledon debut in 2014, beating the then-world No1 Rafael Nadal, as an 18-year-old ranked No144 in the world. He’s also the guy who came back from two sets down to defeat Andreas Seppi, who had beaten Roger Federer in the previous round, to reach a second major quarter-final only six months later.

At 21, he is ranked No13 in the world and owns 10 victories over top-10 players including Federer, Nadal, Wawrinka and Milos Raonic.

It’s true that his temperament has failed him so far in some majors, particularly his fourth round against Andy Murray at Wimbledon last year, where Kyrgios simply didn’t turn up, but contrary to popular belief, the Aussie has been improving on the mental front – his tank job in Shanghai being the exception rather the rule if you look at his 2016 as a whole. People didn’t think he was ready to win a title up until last year. What did he do? He won three in nine months.

While winning seven best-of-five matches over two weeks remains a monster task, if the draw opens up for him, Kyrgios, buoyed by his home crowd, can cause a surprise. After all, who thought Cilic could pull it off when he shocked the field to win the US Open in 2014?

If Kyrgios’ knee holds up, and he is in a serving groove, then he can be a nightmare opponent for most of the field – although Murray remains to be his Achilles’ heel and he has never faced Novak Djokovic before.

Kyrgios is a guy who takes pleasure in proving people wrong and no doubt Federer’s comments will motivate him even more. Is he going to win the Australian Open? Maybe yes, maybe no. But that doesn’t mean he’s not ready for it.

Stuart Appleby, Online and Video Journalist, SAYS NO

If I was Nick Kyrgios, I’d pin Roger Federer’s comments up on my bedroom wall, store them somewhere in my suitcase and have them as my wallpaper/constant memo reminder on my phone.

Being told you’re not ready to win a major…yet…by one of the best players of all time…is surely a great, New Year motivational gift by the Swiss.

It’s one the Canberra-native should be grateful for. Federer’s comments are right but he’s not completely dismissed any future grand slam hopes, he’s merely laid down a gauntlet of sorts. Kyrgios should go out to prove Federer wrong and use it as a spur for the future. I’m sure Roger will be the first to congratulate him and invite him out for dinner if he does.

Let’s be frank, though – Kyrgios isn’t going to win the Australian Open or a major anytime soon in my book.

Having a character like him in the game is great, for there are too many robotic, media-trained players now for my liking.

But, for all his off-court problems, fines and outbursts, I don’t think the 21-year-old has shown any solid evidence yet that he’s harnessed the negative stuff to help him produce on the court. Is he ready to improve on his best grand slam showings so far (two quarter-finals at Wimbledon and Melbourne)? I don’t think so.

The Australian, to me, still feels like a ‘stopper’ – a term Jimmy Connors has used down the years to describe a player, who on their day, can blow anyone off the court. But they tend to follow that up with a below-par showing.

Lukas Rosol and Sergiy Stakhovsky (sorry guys) always jump into my head when I write about this.

Kyrgios can be and is so much better than these types, though.

What’s interesting is that the Aussie and Federer, in their early 20s, were both similar.

Although Fed’s outbursts and smashed racquets didn’t extend to any controversy outside the court like Kyrgios’ have, the talent both players possessed at a relatively young age was there for all to see. Federer managed to harness it and get his game together at a crucial time, winning Wimbledon as a 22-year-old in 2003. Kyrgios has to do the same, but get his act together urgently.

He needs to ask himself ‘What do I actually want from my career and do I want it enough?’ If the answer to both those questions is positive, he should drop Roger a Whatsapp, quickly.

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