Nick Kyrgios was losing big at the U.S. Open on Thursday, and barely even trying. Didn’t move while so-so serves flew by for aces. Casually put groundstrokes into the net. Double-faulted without caring.
The crowd began booing. The chair umpire, Mohamed Lahyani, decided to intervene. In an unusual sight for Grand Slam tennis, Lahyani clambered down out of his seat during a break between games, stood with hands on knees, and spoke with the 30th-seeded Kyrgios, saying, among other things, “I want to help you.”
It all seemed like an impromptu intervention for the mercurial Kyrgios, right out there on Court 17 at Flushing Meadows, and it raised questions about whether Lahyani overstepped his duties as someone who’s primarily there to keep score and keep order. Kyrgios went from trailing by a set and a break at the time to wresting control of the match — setting up a third-round showdown against Roger Federer — by coming back to beat Pierre-Hugues Herbert 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-0.
“This was not his job,” Herbert said, adding that he thinks Lahyani should be sanctioned in some way. “I don’t think he’s a coach, he’s an umpire, and he should stay on his chair for that.”
Watch the exchange here:
A “comprehensive review conducted by a number of tournament officials” determined that Lahyani’s mid-match chat with Kyrgios went “beyond our protocol,” U.S. Tennis Association spokesman Chris Widmaier told The Associated Press on Friday.
But Widmaier said that Lahyani would not be sanctioned because of his “exemplary track record as an international tennis official.”
“He now has a better understanding of what our protocols are and was informed that he needs to stick to those protocols for the rest of the tournament,” Widmaier said. “Each of his matches will be monitored.”
Widmaier said tournament referee Brian Earley and chief umpire Soeren Frienel were among those who “met with Mohamed several times following yesterday’s match” as part of the review.
Lahyani was assigned to umpire a men’s doubles match on Court 13 on Friday.
During an occasionally confrontational and sarcastic exchange with reporters, Kyrgios laughed at the suggestion that he had received coaching or a pep talk from Lahyani.
‘Not a good look’
“I mean, like, I don’t have a coach. I haven’t had a coach for, like, years. Of course he wasn’t coaching me. Like, what are you talking about?” Kyrgios said.
“He said he liked me. I’m not sure if that was encouragement. He just said that it’s not a good look,” Kyrgios said about his chat with Lahyani. “Look. I wasn’t feeling good. I know what I was doing out there wasn’t good. I wasn’t really listening to him, but I knew it wasn’t a good look.”
Kyrgios, a 23-year-old Australian, has run into trouble in the past for not giving his all during matches, even drawing a fine and suspension from the ATP men’s tour in 2016.
As Herbert put it: “Just sometimes he’s mentally not here.”
What there’s never been a doubt about, however, is Kyrgios’ talent and ability to entertain — when he puts his mind to it. He burst onto the scene by stunning Rafael Nadal as a teenager at Wimbledon in 2014, and he owns a victory over 20-time major champion Federer, too.
After reaching the third round by defeating Benoit Paire 7-5, 6-4, 6-4, Federer criticized Lahyani for going to talk to Kyrgios for as long as he did, and from as close as he did.
Normally, a chair umpire leans over from his or her post to speak to a seated player during a changeover.
“I don’t know what he said. I don’t care what he said. It was not just about, ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘Oh, I’m not feeling so well.’ Go back up to the chair. He was there for too long. It’s a conversation. Conversations can change your mindset. It can be a physio, a doctor, an umpire, for that matter,” Federer said. “That’s why it won’t happen again. I think everybody knows that.”