Mohamed Lahyani, the umpire who gave Nick Kyrgios a “pep talk” during a match here at the US Open, has been told by tournament officials that he was out of order but will face no sanctions as a result of his behaviour.
Lahyani got down from his chair during a changeover to talk to Kyrgios when the controversial Australian was a set and 3-0 down on Thursday in his second-round match against Pierre-Hugues Herbert. “I want to help you,” Lahyani told Kyrgios, who had been looking like he did not want to play. “You’re great for tennis.”
Kyrgios quickly started playing better after the discussion and went on to win the match. The Australian later denied that Lahyani had given him encouragement, but Herbert complained that the umpire should not have got down from his chair and behaved like a coach talking to a player on the women’s tour. On-court coaching is not allowed on the men’s tour or at Grand Slam events.
The United States Tennis Association’s initial response, which infuriated Herbert, was to issue a statement which appeared to take Lahyani’s side, saying the umpire had wanted to ask Kyrgios if he needed medical attention.
However, Brian Earley, the tournament referee, and Soeren Friemel, the chief umpire, had several meetings with Lahyani following the incident, as a result of which the Swede was told he had not behaved appropriately, though he would not face any sanctions.
Chris Widmaier, a spokesman for the USTA, said on Friday that “a comprehensive review” of the case had been conducted by a number of tournament officials, who decided that Layhani’s behaviour had gone “beyond our protocol”.
However, Widmaier said that Layhani would not face any disciplinary action because of his "exemplary track record as an international tennis official” and would continue to work at the tournament.
“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.”
While there was plenty of criticism of Layhani from many quarters, he also received plenty of support. Dani Vallverdu, Grigor Dimitrov’s coach and a former member of Andy Murray’s entourage, said on Twitter: “Mohamed Lahyani is one of the best umpires in tennis. One mistake shouldn’t overshadow thousands of good umpiring decisions made by him. Let’s move on and protect the good we have in our sport.”
Layhani was the umpire for the historic 11-hour match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon eight years ago. He has long been regarded as one of the sport’s best umpires and has always seemed happy to be very visible in his job.
Novak Djokovic said that he understood why Herbert had been upset, because umpires should remain neutral, but added: “Everybody who knows Mohamed knows as well he's quite different from others. He's always very positive, smiles, tries to bring that energy to the court. He also likes to make a show out of it.”
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