Injured umpire like 'Rocky', waits for specialist's verdict

Umpire Arnaud Gabas sporting a swollen eye. Denis Shapovalov of Canada had accidentally hit the Frenchman with a stray tennis ball during his Davis Cup match against Kyle Edmund of Britain on Sunday.
Umpire Arnaud Gabas sporting a swollen eye. Denis Shapovalov of Canada had accidentally hit the Frenchman with a stray tennis ball during his Davis Cup match against Kyle Edmund of Britain on Sunday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • The French umpire who was hit in the eye with a tennis ball during Britain's victory against Canada in the Davis Cup on Sunday has said that he was lucky not to have lost his sight.

Arnaud Gabas suffered bruising to the area around his left eye after feeling the full force of a ball smacked in frustration by Canadian 17-year-old Denis Shapovalov during the fifth and deciding match of the first-round tie against Kyle Edmund.

Shapovalov, last year's junior champion at Wimbledon, has been fined US$7,000 (S$12,300) by the International Tennis Federation. Although he did not hit Gabas intentionally, he was disqualified from the match due to the rules covering unsportsmanlike conduct.

Gabas was in good spirits on Monday when he spoke for the first time since the controversial incident, wearing sunglasses to cover his swollen eye. Hospital checks found that he had not suffered any permanent damage, although he was to undergo further examination with an eye specialist after arriving back in France yesterday.

"I came off the court looking like Rocky Balboa," he said. "I feel quite lucky it wasn't worse. I'm on painkillers but I have an appointment to see a specialist when I get home. I was at the hospital for two hours and came back (to the hotel) and watched the Super Bowl. I needed to calm down.

"The video is quite shocking to look at. We have to avoid some balls during the season, but this one I had no chance. 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."

After leaving the court to jeers from some of the 6,000 Canadian fans inside the TD Place arena, Shapovalov immediately sought out Gabas to apologise.

"He was remorseful and shocked when he came to apologise," the umpire said.

Twenty-four hours on from Shapovalov's moment of madness, there was still an air of shock at one of the most high-profile disqualifications in the history of the sport.

Replays were shown repeatedly on Canadian television, with one network trying to make light of the situation by calling it the "worst play of the day".

That Shapovalov immediately shouldered responsibility for his wrongdoing is likely to have been a contributing factor in his fairly lenient fine, which is more than double his 2017 prize money total of US$2,970.

He also escaped the maximum penalty of US$12,000 because his action at two sets and a break of serve down to Edmund had not been intentional.

It is unlikely that there will be any further disciplinary action.

"Last night at my Davis Cup match I did something very unprofessional and inexcusable," he wrote in a statement.

"In the heat of the moment after losing a game, I lost the control of my emotions and hit the ball with an intention of hitting out of the court. Unfortunately and absolutely unintentionally I hit Mr Arnaud Gabas, the chair umpire. I will accept any consequences."

Retired British player Tim Henman was disqualified in a Wimbledon doubles match in 1995 when he hit a ball which accidentally struck a ball girl.

More recently, at the 2012 Queen's final in London, Argentinian David Nalbandian kicked an advertising hoarding at courtside in frustration, an action which bloodied a line judge's shin. It cost him a €10,000 (S$15,130) fine.

Shapovalov has vowed to learn from his mistake.

"I feel incredibly ashamed and embarrassed and I just feel awful for letting my team down, for letting my country down, for acting in a way that I would never want to act," he said. "I can promise that's the last time I will do anything like that. I'm going to learn from this and try to move past it."

Britain will play France in the quarter-finals in April. Italy are also through to the last eight after dealing defending Davis Cup champions Argentina a first-round knockout on Monday, winning 3-2.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 08, 2017, with the headline 'Injured umpire like 'Rocky', waits for specialist's verdict'. Print Edition | Subscribe