Henman and Bates are disqualified in doubles

James Cusick last night witnessed a shameful end to a great day for Britain

The British doubles pair, Jeremy Bates and Tim Henman, became the first players to be disqualified at Wimbledon in the Open era when they were defaulted last night after Henman accidentally fired a ball into the head of a ball-girl.

In fading light on court 14, with the British pair leading Jeff Tarango, of the United States, and Henrik Holm, of Sweden, by two sets to one and after three points of play in the fourth set tie-break, the tournament referee, Alan Mills, was called to assist the umpire, Wayne McKewan. The pair were ruled to have committed a code violation and were thrown out of the tournament. The crowd booed the decision and stood in amazement as the players left the court.

The incident happened after Henman missed a net-cord. As the ball-girl moved to retrieve the ball, Henman lashed out with his racket in frustration, hitting a ball he was holding. The girl, only a foot away, received the full force of the ball on her ear. She initially fell to the ground, but then ran to her usual position in tears and a doctor was called.

As he left the court, Holm said he would have been willing to play on, but nevertheless said he had asked the umpire for clarification on the default rule.

At a late-night press conference at the All England Club, Henman described the incident. "I was not happy at losing the point and was angry. I went to hit the ball hard. I'd looked to see if the linespeople were out of the way." Clearly on the verge of tears, he said: "It's a complete accident, but I'm responsible for my actions."

"As soon as I'd hit the ball I had an idea that I may be defaulted." Commenting on the opinion of Tarango, who said the speed of the ball as it left Henman's racket could have killed the girl, Henman said: "I disagree with that. If she hadn't been there I'm sure I would not have received a code violation for ball abuse."

A statement from the referee's office said: "In the tie-break of the fourth set there was a net-cord at a crucial point. In sheer frustration at missing it, Tim Henman slammed the ball which unfortunately hit a ball- girl extremely hard on the side of the head.

"The rules precisely state that a player must be in control of his actions on court, and in such cases there is no choice but to default automatically on the basis of unsportsmanlike conduct. The ball-girl, Caroline Hall, has been taken home and will undergo a thorough medical examination. Tim Henman is extremely upset about this freak accident, and although rare, the rules clearly state that default is the only course of action in cases of this nature."

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