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Tennis player behaviour has come into sharp focus again in recent weeks, with Andrey Rublev receiving a default in his semi-final match against Alexander Bublik in Dubai. Rublev was ousted from the event, following an intimidating outburst in the face of a linesman.

Was it the right call? Was it the wrong call? Everyone in tennis circles seem to have a different opinion, and for what it’s worth, I believe it was a correct decision. If there’s one thing we don’t want to showcase in our sport, it is disrespect to officials.

By allowing players to abuse the individuals in charge (often voluntarily), either verbally or physically, it sends a message to juniors and social players across the world, that umpires, linespeople, referees, etc, are open slather.

In Australia, the Australian Football League has cracked down hard on any kind of intimidation towards officials. Some would say they have perhaps gone too far, to the point where there is now minimal banter between them. However, there’s no doubt the sport has changed for the better, at all levels of play. No-one deserves to feel unsafe when doing their job.

In the Rublev case, it doesn’t appear there was anything extremely offensive directed at the linesperson, but there was zero doubt it was aggressive and unnecessary.

In the aftermath, Rublev posted a statement on his social media platforms, which actually infuriated more people, for the fact that there was very little contrition, and no actual apology.

“While I’m disappointed that I couldn’t finish my semifinal in Dubai, I am deeply grateful for the overwhelming support I’ve received over the past few days. I’ve received countless messages of encouragement.

Thank you to everyone who has stood by me. I am determined to learn from this incident and strive to become a better player and person.”

But now, speaking to Russian journalist Sofya Tartakova before Indian Wells, he claims he has absolutely apologized.

“….I've apologized several times."

When questioned if he found it difficult to apologize, the 26-year-old Russian insisted it wasn’t.

(Translated from Russian)

"No, not hard at all because it was my fault and it's unacceptable to behave like that, to raise my voice like that. No matter if it's a line judge, a fan, or just a regular person. I am no one to allow myself such things doesn't matter if a person has been correct or not," Rublev said. 

"Such things are unacceptable in general, it's disrespectful. So of course, I feel guilty about it, and I'm ashamed that I allowed myself to do such things, it just never (gained such attention). To be honest, I have been allowing myself similar things many times before that incident."

Fellow professionals such as Andy Murray have since come out in support of the officials. “All of us players - and I think I've been guilty of it myself - we need to be a little bit careful of the way that we speak to officials and treat officials.

“There's a huge difference between rugby and football - rugby is a great example for how to deal with it. Officials are dealt with respectfully and we could probably do a better job with it in tennis as well. At the end of the day, we as players shouldn't be doing that. We are the one in the wrong - not the official."

“I understand that in the heat of battle sometimes things happen, but I think over the last four or five years there have been a number of instances where lines have probably been crossed - and maybe not enough has been done about it.

So I think we all probably have to have a bit of a look at ourselves and go 'is this really the way we want to be dealing with officials or bad line calls?'"

We all understand players are human, and emotions can run high. Pick a random tennis club, in any country, and you’re bound to find incidents that would warrant a ‘code violation’, or a ‘default’. But what can we tolerate at the ATP/WTA level? What is an acceptable level of ‘bad behaviour’?

Abuse/Intimidation towards officials:

I have already discussed this above with the Andrey Rublev incident, but there needs to be zero tolerance for this on the tennis court. Whether abuse is directed at the chair umpire, a linesman, a referee, or a ballperson, it’s a non-negotiable. Questioning a call, or a rule is one thing, but we cannot just let something such as the Rublev incident pass by with no consequences. Mind you, it’s not the worst we’ve seen, just the most recent.

Serena Williams was penalized a point after a verbal spray towards a line judge in the 2009 US Open. Contrary to what people think, she wasn’t actually defaulted for it. The point she lost, just happened to be match point. It should’ve been a straight ‘red card’. 

Alexander Zverev smashed his racket against the umpire’s chair, just centimetres from the umpire’s foot, following a doubles match. He was subsequently defaulted from his upcoming singles encounter, which was the right decision.

There have been countless others throughout the years, but we also mustn’t lose sight of the fact that, considering how many tennis matches are played around the world every day, tennis players are generally respectful. On the occasions they’re not though….they deserve zero sympathy.

Smashed rackets:

No, it’s not always a good look, and no, it shouldn’t be encouraged, but I have an issue with players receiving code violations for smashing their own racket on the ground. As said earlier, emotions run high, and breaking a racket can help a player re-focus, while also giving the crowd an insight into the players frame of mind. The caveat to this is, if the player throws their racket, which has the potential to strike someone on, or off the court. In that case, a code violation, up to a default, depending on the seriousness, is warranted. But for a general outburst of frustration, let’s allow the players some freedom.

On-Court Obscenities:

Again, there are degrees of obscenities, and there are also decibels of obscenities. If I’m taking my kids to watch the tennis, I’m not impressed by hearing players such as Nick Kyrgios (who is a regular at profanity) throw out F-bombs as they please. If it’s loud enough, and offensive enough for the crowd to hear it, then I’m happy with a code violation. Thankfully, this kind of abuse is already fairly well officiated, and it’s generally not a major issue at the top level.

Striking a Ball out of Court:

When a player smashes a ball into the stands, or off to the side of the court, he or she takes the risk of injuring an innocent by-stander. In this case, it’s hard to argue with a code violation at the low end, to a default if it does in fact hit someone. Stefanos Tsitsipas came very close to this during his 2022 3rd round Wimbledon clash, when he was fined for hitting two balls into the crowd. If one of them had’ve hit a member of the paying public, a default would be a fair call. Kyrgios certainly pushed for it at the time….

“It’s a default bro. What classifies as that then? What classifies as it? So you can hit a ball into the crowd and hit someone and not get defaulted? Are you dumb?”

‘Trash talk’:

Not something we see often on the tennis court (although perhaps Tsitsipas might disagree after that infamous clash with Kyrgios), but from time to time, there are incidents of intimidation, and ‘trash-talk’ between players.

We can go back to 2015 when Nick Kyrgios gave Stan Wawrinka a verbal spray from the other side of the court. What he said that day has been well documented, and while there has to be some limits (of which this probably crossed that line), surely a bit of back and forth between players occasionally isn’t a bad thing? In fact, I believe the public would love a bit of spice added to the match-ups.

Last year, Paula Badosa was asked about it, and was quite open in saying it might be fun for the sport to have a bit more of it.

"I'm in. Yeah, I mean I'm all day talking trash on the court, but no, I mean, it would be totally different. We're not used to that. I mean, traditionally tennis is, it's very, like, polite, but why not?"

Coco Gauff agreed.

"There could be more banter here and there. So long as you don't take it personally. You see in basketball, guys go at each other and then they go out for a drink afterward. I think it would make the sport interesting. I think this is something that would bring more fans in. Pretty much every other sport has it. In college tennis they trash talk a lot."


Most tennis fans (or players), don’t want to see, or encourage bad behaviour. But at certain times, perhaps we need to let players be themselves a little more.

While at other times, the sport may need to set precedents, ensuring to stamp out the serious incidents, before they become accepted at grassroots, all the way to the elite level.


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