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Until Sunday morning, references for Argentine tennis player David Nalbandian were clear: very talented, with irregular results, a former world number three, a Wimbledon finalist, a Masters champion.
However, his image is now quite different, as the man who lost his head with consequences that are unprecedented in the world of tennis.
Nalbandian, 30, was by Monday the object of a double investigation: by British police for “alleged assault” and by the ATP for “conduct contrary to the integrity of the game”.
Media outlets around the world gave ample coverage to the Argentine’s unusual kick, which hurt a line judge during the final at the Queen’s Club, London.
“We are aware of an incident which took place at the Aegon Championships on June 17,” a police spokesman said. “A complaint of assault has been made and the Metropolitan Police Service is now investigating.”
ATP spokeswoman, Nicola Arzani, said: “An investigation has already been launched. The rules and regulations department is in charge.”
The line judge was injured when Nalbandian kicked the wooden box around him. As the Argentine’s foot hit the box, it struck the line judge’s leg and caused him a gash that bled profusely. The judge, moreover, did not accept Nalbandian’s lukewarm apology.
The veteran player was disqualified from the tournament and therefore lost the final he was at the time winning 7-6 (3), 3-4 against Croatia’s Marin Cilic.
Nalbandian lost all the points he had won over the week and had to pay for his accommodation – a bill the tournament would otherwise have picked up. He was fined e10 000 (R104 900) – the maximum ATP fine for such cases – and also forfeited the $60 000 (R493 000) prize that was his as a finalist.
For a man with quite a bit of it, money is not a problem. The toughest thing for Nalbandian was that on Sunday he buried under the sand his tennis career. It is yet to be seen when he will manage to pull it out of there.
As of this incident, his name is no longer associated to the great player he once was but to the crazy sportsman who kicked a line judge.
John McEnroe was once stripped of his honorary membership at Queen’s Club after swearing at the wife of the then chairman over an incident regarding the booking of a practice court.
“Other players have had swearing fits and smashed rackets, but David Nalbandian being thrown out for kicking a linesman outdoes anything that has gone before,” the British daily, The Guardian, wrote on Monday.
“If David Nalbandian had done what he did on the tennis court while drinking in any of the pubs near Queen’s Club, there is every chance that the police would have been called and the Argentine might well have been arrested,” the Daily Mail said.
The Argentine’s apology dubiously included criticism of the ATP.
It was not the first time that Nalbandian had lost control.
In January, he was accused of throwing water at a doctor after a doping test and there have been other incidents that haven’t been made public.
A sport in which rules and gentlemanly behaviour are highly valued, tennis shook over the violent incident, and the BBC website witnessed a lively debate among users.
“How long will it take for President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to make a political issue out of it?” one comment said, obviously with the tension between London and Buenos Aires over the Falkland Islands in mind.
Problems are piling up for Nalbandian.
The rule book says the ATP’s reputation is “a valuable asset and creates tangible benefits for all ATP members”.
Violating it, the rules say, could lead to a fine of up to $100 000 and/or a suspension to play in the ATP tour for up to three years.
It remains to be seen whether Nalbandian will play in Wimbledon next week.
The decision is not in the hands of the ATP, but in those of the traditional and strict All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. – Sapa-dpa