peer pressure


When does it become not acceptable to play tennis in the 21st century where TV scheduling and pleasing the sponsors appears now to take precedence over the welfare and requests of the players?

Now this is an oversight criticism of tennis itself. It may not relate fully to the situation on Wednesday where Gael Monfils and Fabio Fognini slugged it out in near pitch-black conditions on the hallowed clay of Roland Garros.

While many have slated the officials for bowing to crowd pressure to continue at 4-4 in the fifth set while other matches had long since ceased to continue, I feel that they may have been worried about the kind of weather-induced backlog that has haunted Wimbledon through the 1990s.

Fabio Fognini, of course, refused to take part in this farce and was handed a point penalty for his troubles, which lasted for over five minutes. After Monfils failed to capitalise on a match point Fognini clawed it back to 5-5 before the match was carried over to the following day.

But you know all this already. Is it an isolated case? Definitely not. How does this compare to tennis mishaps from the umpires of yesteryear? We take a look back through the annuls of tennis to find out.

Hearing Aid for the Umpire Please

During the third round of the 1977 US Open at Forest Hills John McEnroe was facing Eddie Dibbs when there was a large commotion in the crowd. The umpire called the two players over and informed them that somebody had been shot, before announcing that he had heard wrong and that somebody was in fact in shock. McEnroe went on to win the match and the umpire then admitted he had been right first time round. A spectator had been hit by a stray bullet from the streets of Queens. It was a sad end to the Open’s stay at Forest Hills before it shifted venue in 1978.

Mass Peer Pressure

Mr. McEnroe was involved once more but, again, it was not his temperament in question. This time he was fighting Ilie Nastase in the 1979 US Open at its new home at Flushing Meadow. During the fourth set McEnroe served and Nastase held up his hand to motion he was not ready. The umpire awarded McEnroe the point and Nastase, backed by 10,000 vocal fans, complained. Nastase continued his vocal crusade and was finally docked the game. The crowd exploded and rubbish rained down from the stands on to the court and the cops were called. After seventeen minutes Nastase was asked to resume and after refusing for the one-minute service time period he was disqualified and McEnroe handed the match. Again there were mass complaints and, fearing a full scale riot, the umpire was replaced by tournament officials and the match continued. Unfortunately for Nastase, McEnroe went on to win this one too.

Gentleman Tim Accidentally Sets Record

Of all the people you never thought it would be, in 1995 Tim Henman became the first man to be thrown out of Wimbledon. During a doubles match with Jeremy Bates Henman lost a crucial point in the fourth set tiebreaker and frustratingly smashed the ball downcourt. Unfortunately, standing in the way was the face of sixteen-year-old ball girl Caroline Hall who was running cross-court to resume her correct position. The umpire didn’t even hesitate and disqualified the pair. Still, Hall got a huge bunch of flowers and a kiss from Tim for her troubles the next day.

A Really Aggressive Wife Doesn’t Win You Tennis Matches

Obviously peeved that Henman had beaten him to that Wimby record a few days previously, American Jeff Tarango took particular umbrage to umpire Bruno Rebuah continually ruling against him. His outburst of “That’s it, I’m not playing” is now pretty famous as was his pleas to officials to remove the umpire. After telling an angry crowd to “shut up” he packed his bags and stormed off court, disqualifying himself. To make matters worse for Rebuah, Tarango’s wife Benedicte then stormed on court and slapped him twice in the face. Tarango was heavily fined for his troubles and banned from the next two Grand Slams.

Father Doesn’t Always Know Best

This could relate to a number of people here but we are in fact talking about Damir Dokic who was famously ejected from his daughter Jelena’s match in the pre-Wimby tournament at Birmingham’s Edgbaston Club in June 1999. After a string of decisions went against Jelena, Damir became increasingly agitated in his chair. A string of outbursts towards the umpire ended with him shouting to everybody present that “they were fascists” for which he was finally ejected. Once outside, he proceeded to lie in front of traffic in the middle of the road and eventually spent the afternoon in prison.

Of course there are many others. A lot have come from the mouths of that pesky Mr. McEnroe and Madame Serena Williams. But for now we return back to the present day and to the current happenings in Paris. It’s a Slam which is shaping up pretty nicely so far. We hope that continues, and more for the tennis than the likes of the difficult situations umpires find themselves in like those listed above.


By Melina Harris

A year on after the political tumult in 2009 caused by the refusal to admit Israeli Shahar Peer, even with the correct visa to enter the United Arab Emirates to compete in the Barclay’s Dubai Tennis Championships and the subsequent debate over whether to also exclude the men’s doubles player Andy Ram, both tournament and player overcame the political ‘Peer’ pressure to succeed in a continuing hostile political climate.

This year’s tournament played just a couple of hundred yards from the hotel where the senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed last month was still able to amass crowds of tennis fans to watch the WTA event and World number 22 Peer, showed extreme strength of character to reach the semi finals under the constant threat of violence on and off court, for she played her four singles and two doubles matches on an outside court at the insistence of the Dubai State Police for security reasons while all spectators were forced to pass through airport-like metal detectors before entering.

Peer insisted that ‘I’m not here to play politics’, but surely the mental effects from last year’s events must have fuelled her desire to perform well at this year’s tournament. She has won a huge amount of respect from her fellow competitors for her grit and determination earning $88,000 in beating the in-form Wozniaki convincingly en route to her semi final loss against Venus Williams, ironically the player who during her acceptance speech at last year’s final spoke passionately in defense of the Israeli, earning her an award from the Jewish community in New York.

Last year, tournament organizers defended their decision to exclude Peer from the tournament as they maintained Peer’s presence ‘would have antagonized our fans who have watched live television coverage of recent attacks in Gaza’ believing that ‘the entire tournament could have been boycotted by protesters’. This argument provoked a strong reaction, not only from Williams, Andy Roddick also famously refused to play the men’s event on moral grounds.

The lucrative tournament was nearly cancelled by the former chief executive of the WTA Tour, Larry Scott, who forcibly refused to concede that the effects of a three-week Israeli offensive in Gaza, which caused the death of 1,300 Palestinians allowed the organizers enough evidence to ban an Israeli from competing, which led to the tournament being fined a record $300,000, raising the issue of sport and politics to the foreground of much media debate.

Despite the media frenzy surrounding Peer’s reintroduction, Stacy Allaster, Scott’s successor insisted that ‘what happened last year is over and the chapter is most definitely closed’ and went on to say:

‘We will always stand by our insistence no host country can deny a player the right to compete at any event on the tour for which she has qualified by ranking. We took our stance by imposing the largest fine imposed in our history and requiring the tournament to put up a letter of credit for the prize money. We also insisted that any Israeli player would receive a visa well in advance of this year’s event. The tournament met all of those obligations and we are 100% happy with the way things have been.’

For Peer, who also suffered cruel jibes at the Australian Open, where anti-Israeli protestors held up placards of her in uniform with a Palestinian baby on her racket, the mental scars have clearly not healed. She revealed in an interview, ‘it hurt mentally and professionally, because I was playing very well. I was on a good run and I was ready for the tournament. It was a big tournament and I couldn’t go, so it really stopped my momentum. To be barred from a country is not a nice feeling. I think there’s no place for that in sport. I actually think that sport can make it better and help political situations, not make it worse.’

She also recently reflected before competing in this year’s event ‘it was a difficult time but sport should be outside of politics, so obviously I want to come and play here. We all need to be equal. I really wanted to win here, not only because of tennis, but because I want to make a statement that politics and sport should not be mixed.’

Can sport ever be truly separate from the political world climate? Can it, like Peer suggested, be a harmonizing force, making political situations better, rather than worse?

There have been numerous incidents across the sporting world where politics and sport have collided causing catastrophic effects, the most notorious being when terrorists attacked a bus carrying Sri Lanka’s cricket team in the Pakistani city of Lahore in 2009. It is a terrible shame that sport’s stars should sometimes live in fear of their lives while playing the sport they love, but unfortunately it is a reality that sport and politics will always be inextricably linked.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at and follow her twitter updates via She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.