Andre Agassi's uneasy relationship with officialdom finally broke down when he was disqualified from the RCA Championships in Indianapolis yesterday after a row with the umpire.
The Olympic champion had just been broken in his second-round match against the Canadian Daniel Nestor when he hit a ball into the stands. He was promptly cited for ball abuse by the chair umpire Dana Laconto.
Agassi, 3-2 down in the second set after taking the first 6-1, then swore at the official, who in turn called for the ATP supervisor, Mark Darby. After a few moments' discussion, Darby instructed Laconto to default the American and No 3 seed.
The crowd immediately reacted with anger. A chorus of boos broke out as water bottles and paper towels were lobbed on to the court.
Agassi sat on his chair for a few minutes, and then left the court still fuming. The crowd cheered Agassi as he departed.
"I got a warning; then he went straight to default," Agassi said. "I felt I had an argument for not getting a point penalty. It's something I've said a thousand times and today they decide that I crossed the line."
Agassi was scathing of Darby, who has been on the tour for six years. "It's a call made by a guy who shouldn't be in this business," he said.
The ATP official, however, remained unrepentant, saying later: "I'm comfortable with what happened and that I applied the rules. I stand by it. It's unfortunate that it was necessary."
It later emerged that officials, fearing the loss a major draw card in Agassi, met for 30 minutes behind closed doors in a vain attempt to persuade Darby to reverse his decision. Agassi ridiculed Darby's behind-the-scenes appearance, saying: "He looks like a little kid with a dunce hat sitting in the corner."
Agassi, who had never been defaulted, said the decision was unjust because the normal road to default - warning, point penalty and default - was not followed.
"I will take responsibility for getting a warning and I will take the responsibilities for getting upset on the court like I have done a thousand times, sometimes," he said. "But I will not accept this decision. It was a wrong decision."
However, without revealing Agassi's words to the umpire, Darby said: "In my experience this is the first time that I have been at a tournament that a player has said that statement directly at the chair. That statement goes over the limit, goes over the edge as far as the code is concerned. It is one that can go straight into default."
Although it is an extremely rare occurrence, Agassi is in good company. In 1990 his compatriot John McEnroe was defaulted from the Australian Open and at last year's Wimbledon another American, Jeff Tarango, was going in that direction before he walked off court. In the same tournament Tim Henman, Britain's new tennis hero, was disqualified for accidentally hitting a ball in anger at a ball girl.
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