Update: Michael Russell Calls Lleyton Hewitt a “Racist” and “Douche Bag”

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(July 14, 2013) After his semifinal loss to Nicolas Mahut at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, RI on Sunday, American Michael Russell kept his eyes on center court. Due to rain delays on Saturday, both singles semifinals and the final were forced to be played back to back the following day on adjacent courts.

After winning their respective semifinals, Lleyton Hewitt took the court against Mahut to battle for the grass court title at 2:30pm on Sunday. After serving for the match, up 7-5, 5-4, Hewitt ended up losing the set and the match, 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 to the Frenchman.

Afterward, Russell unexpectedly took to his personal Facebook page for an aggressive rant and name-calling session against the Aussie, calling him a “douche bag and a racist.”

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The “side court 1″ comment is in reference to both semifinals being played side-by-side simultaneously, where Hewitt versus John Isner was on center court, and Russell versus Mahut was on court 1.

Though Russell somewhat explains what he meant by the “douche bag” comment, there was nothing to allude to the “racist” comment whether on Facebook or during the week’s happenings in Newport.

However, this isn’t the first time Hewitt has been called a racist.

During a second round match between Hewitt and James Blake at the 2001 US Open, Hewitt was called for two foot faults in the fourth set. The line judge happened to be black, and during a changeover, Hewitt had a conversation with the chair umpire regarding what many perceived to be a race issue.

“I’m only being foot-faulted on one end … Look at him, look at him and you tell me what the similarity is,” said a heated Hewitt on court.

When questioned in his post-match press conference about seemingly comparing the umpire’s and Blake’s skin color as the reason for his outburst, Hewitt firmly denied it was a race issue. “No, I didn’t say that to the umpire.”

“It was a conversation with me and the umpire,” Hewitt continued. “I come from a multi-cultured country, I’m not racial at all … There was nothing racial said out there at all. If people took it in the wrong way, then I apologize because it wasn’t meant to be in that way.” Blake publicly gave him the benefit of the doubt “because it’s in competition.”

However, the stigma stuck and the Aussie received continued backlash — one that seems to have extended to present day with Russell’s comments some 12 years later. The strange thing is though, Hewitt went on to defeat Albert Portas, Tommy Haas, Andy Roddick, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Pete Sampras to win his first Slam, the 2001 US Open.

UPDATE: Michael Russell went on Facebook and Twitter late Sunday to debunk it was him posting these comments to his Facebook account, instead claiming it was his “publicist.” However, while saying he “NEVER posts directly on Facebook” but “ONLY” uses Twitter linked to his Facebook account, the first post below is clearly in opposition to that statement. Moreover, as seen in the screencap above, the person apparently posting in Russell’s stead commented that “I have been on tour for over 15 years.” Now, why would a publicist state that if indeed it was the publicist? Furthermore, Russell’s wife Lilly “liked” several of the comments within the now-deleted rant.

Regardless of what happened here or who is to blame, it was not a smart move for a guy generally well-liked on the Tour, and one who has been quite outspoken about the need of restructuring the ATP.

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(h/t to @prashantsport on Hewitt video)

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5 Responses to Update: Michael Russell Calls Lleyton Hewitt a “Racist” and “Douche Bag”

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  • Chris says:

    Thanks for this breakdown, Romi, and the video of the 2001 interview.

    It’s hard to see why Russell wants to stir up an incident from over a decade ago and connect it to something completely unrelated today. It’s also hard to see why it matters so much to him when he did not even play Hewitt today. As far as I know, he is not a close friend of Mahut. (Correct me if I’m wrong.) I can think only that Russell has some leftover sour grapes after losing to Hewitt at Queen’s Club last month, a tough three-setter in which he won the first set.

    Russell is not without reason in suggesting that Hewitt should have given more credit to Mahut, but reviving the old “racist” slurs (as accurate as they may have been once) do a greater disservice to Russell than Hewitt’s comments did to Hewitt. Russell probably will regret this outburst once he simmers down and recognizes what a strong tournament he had, reaching the semifinals.

    The ATP and/or the USTA also need to do a better job of informing their players about the appropriate use of social media. While a journeyman like Russell receives relatively little attention, making these statements on Facebook for all to see does not reflect well on tennis in general and on American tennis in particular. Something put down in writing, even in electronic form, is hard to erase once emotions subside.

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  • I agree with much of what you’ve stated, Chris. It’s tough to take back something like this or even lessen the blow to his character. Russell has been an upstanding guy from what I know, so it’s certainly strange to call someone out in public like this, regardless of whether he thought his Facebook page was private or public (which I’m assuming he thought was the former). I don’t know the extent of his relationship with Mahut, but it sounded more personal than just defending a friend even.

    And thanks for the reference about Queen’s Club. It really makes you wonder how long players hold grudges for. It certainly does a disservice to the American’s character. But who knows? All the backlash he may now receive could catapult him to a title. Kind of like it did with Hewitt.

    And Gulbis said the Tours are boring. Ha!

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  • Timothy says:

    Who’s Michael Russell?

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  • Robin Crew says:

    The foolish publicist should be named to clear Russell. Always laugh when Americans call Australians racist – didn’t half the US go to war to keep slavery? That would have been unthinkable in Aus.

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