© Ella Ling

Smashed racket

Top 10 violent incidents in tennis


Inspired, if that’s the right word, by David Nalbandian’s kick at the Queen’s Club, here’s our top 10 of violent incidents in tennis (David doesn’t make it).

Fans brawl and interrupt a Novak Djokovic match at the US Open. As the New York Daily News put it, after the Grapple in the Apple during the 2010 tournament, “a fight broke out in the nosebleeds”. Eyewitnesses suggested that the fight in the Arthur Ashe Stadium started when a female fan and her father became upset at a male spectator’s swearing. “It was a hot night in New York,” said a spokesman for the tournament. “These things happen.”

Mary Pierce’s father attacks one of her bodyguards. The story everyone always tells about Jim Pierce is how he once screamed out during a match: “Go on, Mary, kill the bitch”, but what is often forgotten is how he fought one of his daughter’s bodyguards. Jim once admitted: “He (the bodyguard) ran away and then came back, so I put him down and kept punching him. I tell you, that guy must have liked being hit.”

Stefan Koubek grabs Dani Koellerer by the throat. Koellerer no longer competes on the tour, as he is banned for life for match-fixing. While he was still competing, allegations abounded about his behaviour, including how he once allegedly had a fight with an Italian player in the locker-room, which started when the Austrian allegedly spat on his own palm before they shook hands at the net. One thing we do know for sure – because there’s footage on YouTube – Koellerer once provoked Koubek so much that his countryman grabbed him by the throat.

Grigor Dimitrov shoves an umpire in the chest. The Bulgarian once said that tennis is a simple game for intelligent people, but even intelligent people can do stupid things. In 2010, Dimitrov walked off court at a tournament in Helsinki and shoved an umpire in the chest with both hands. “It was a mistake what I did, and I have really learned from it. I should not have done it, and I have apologise. I will never do anything like that again, or even think about doing anything like that,” Dimitrov has said. “I want to put that in the past, though, and move on.”

Stefan Koubek hits a ball-boy with his racket. He was defaulted from the 2000 French Open for accidentally hitting a ball-kid. “Of course, I didn’t do that on purpose, but it happened,” Koubek said. “I didn’t see him because I was so mad with myself that I wanted to throw the racket to my bench. It hit the ground and went to him. It did not even hit him that hard, I think. I’m pretty sure about that.”

Rioting at Melbourne Park. On the opening day of the 2007 Australian Open, more than 150 Croatian and Serbian spectators were removed from the grounds after attacking their rivals with fists, sticks, beer-cups, bottles and flag-poles. It was the first time that a grand slam had seen a riot.

Damir Dokic stomps on a mobile phone. Jelena’s father broke a journalist’s phone at the 2000 Wimbledon Championships. Later that summer, he was thrown out of the players’ restaurant after causing a scene about the price of salmon.

Spectators are pepper-sprayed at the Australian Open. The 2008 Australian Open did not pass off peacefully either. Police used pepper-spray as they tried to deal with a group of male Greek fans who had been “chanting abusively” at Chilean Fernando Gonzalez, including calling the former finalist “a faggot”. The Greeks then acted, according to the police, in an “aggressive and threatening” manner towards the officers. It was later suggested by witnesses that some of the women and children in the crowd had inadvertently been dosed with the pepper spray.

Aravane Rezai’s father and boyfriend’s alleged confrontation at the 2011 Australian Open. The women’s tennis tour called it “a serious safety matter”, and it resulted in an unnamed member of Rezai’s family being suspended from all future WTA events. During Aravane’s junior career, her father Arsalan had a reputation. Arsalan and the other tennis dads did not always get along, and the French Tennis Federation were once so concerned about the possibility of violence at a junior tournament that they hired body-guards. 

Mike Agassi’s rage. “Violent by nature, my father is forever preparing for battle,” Andre Agassi recalled in his book, Open. “He shadowboxes constantly. He keeps an axe handle in his car. He leaves the house with a handful of salt and pepper in each pocket, in case he’s in a street fight and he needs to blind someone.” For Agassi senior, a former Olympic boxer, road rage reaching across his son to wage a hand-gun at a driver who had cut him up.

  • Guest

    Not sure Nalbandians incident is on the same level as these though… no more violent than Henman hitting a ball girl, was it because he is English that there was less of a fuss….  

    • Rkatier

      Agree about the comparison of level….one an outside court…one a final…not sure of the fuss though

      • Justanocassionalreader

        Agree with Guest, Nalbandian was very very wrong and had to be even suspended but … don’t you think it’s just kind of hostility just because of his nationality??

  • Pennettafan

    Bit bemused as to how you can use the headline “Top 10 violent incidents in tennis” and not mention the worst one of all ….. Monica Seles’ stabbing?????

    • Jim Riches

      Who cares. She came from Serbia at that part of Yugoslavia. If she was American, organizers in Frankfurt will never see the WTA tournament.

  • Omegie

    Monica Seles getting stabbed springs to mind.