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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