Tennis Prose



Chair Umpire Layhani Pep Talks Kyrgios To Victory at US Open

By Scoop Malinowski

Leave it to Nick Kyrgios to spark the biggest controversy of the US Open … so far.

Today Nick was getting trounced by Pierre Hugues-Hebert on court 17. Nick double-faulted to squander the first set 4-6 and was down 0-3 in the second. The crowd was booing what appeared to be another Kyrgios tank. One witness said he saw Nick mutter to his box, “I’m done.”

Then something bizarre happened. The chair umpire Mohamed Layhani stepped down from his seat and approached Nick at his changeover. He bent over and verbally tried to inspire Kyrgios to make a better effort. According to Ben Rothenberg, Layhani could be heard saying to the mercurial Aussie:

“I want to help you, I want to help you.”

“I’ve seen your matches. you’re great for tennis.”

“I can see that. I know this is not you.”

Kyrgios supposedly asked Layhani for a medical trainer but when the trainer arrived Kyrgios did not take any treatment on the next changeover.

Layhani’s inspirational words had a clear impact on Nick’s performance. He won the second set tiebreaker and then cruised 63 60, to set up the much-anticipated third round showdown with Roger Federer, provided Federer can finish off Benoit Paire.

Leave it to Nick Kyrgios to ignite one of the most bizarre episodes in tennis history. I have a feeling the tennis world is going to be chattering about this one for a while. Or until Nick can choreograph his next drama.

Stay tuned for what Federer, Serena, Rafa, McEnroe, Chrissie and Martina have to say about the latest edition of the Nick Kyrgios tennis circus.

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  • Michael in UK · August 30, 2018 at 6:20 pm

    That really is the strangest thing I have heard in tennis, maybe ever! Unprecedented or what!?

  • Duke Carnoustie · August 30, 2018 at 6:26 pm

    As I correctly said, the USTA defended him after. They did so since now they have a Fed v Clownios blockbuster on Saturday.

    Herbert and Fed have ripped Layhani. Wilander too said he disagreed. More to follow.

  • Jg · August 30, 2018 at 6:38 pm

    Looks like Tiafoe needs a visit from Layhani, lost second set 6 0

  • Dan Markowitz · August 30, 2018 at 7:51 pm

    Yes but Tiafoe rallies too to take third set 7-5. It’s Frances vs DeMinaur on court and Gineprivagainst Hewitt in coaching boxes. Looks like Lahyani clearly overstepped his role out there in giving Nick pep talk and JMac said he’d likely be suspended or not give big match assignments which is a shame. Mohammed might seek the limelight too much as an ump, but his presence, friendly demeanor, strict interpretation of the rules and Hawkeye calls make him thirst in game in my opinion.

  • Joe Blow · August 30, 2018 at 8:01 pm

    People that bet Herbert must be pissed, but I don’t know if you win your bet if the opponent retires

  • Chazz · August 30, 2018 at 9:05 pm

    Disappointing match from Foe. Not that he lost to a really good player, but that he got smoked in 2 of the sets. De Minaur vs Cilic should be interesting.

  • Dan Markowitz · August 30, 2018 at 11:51 pm

    Very disappointing match from Foe. DeMinaur is a year younger and not as highly ranked Nos. 44 and 45). For Foe to have only won five games in the three sets he lost, is a bad sign. Kind of shows Foe might not be a big game player. What I saw of the match, even though De Minaur is like 4 inches shorter and weighs 20 pounds less, he was out-hitting Foe and actually moved better.

    Serena’s coach, Patrick Mourataglo, who was announcing the match, said during the third set that Foe actually won, that Foe didn’t look like he knew what he was doing out there. That his patterns weren’t established well enough.

  • Duke Carnoustie · August 30, 2018 at 11:57 pm

    Herbert issued a statement on Twitter saying he is angry with Layhani and “more upset against the statement of the USTA that is clearly taking us for fools.”

    I think you have to believe the USTA pressured Layhani and got in his ear as they desired the Kyrgios-Fed matchup we now have. There is no other conclusion that makes sense that Layhani did this on his own. It has to come from the USTA the way they worded their statement taking Layhani’s side 100 percent.

    Now that this has happened, this match will be one of the highest rated. I believe Layhani will not only not be disciplined but may receive some extra money under the table from the USTA since what he did was for the good of the tournament.

  • Chazz · August 31, 2018 at 12:15 am

    Duke I think Tiafoe was in an unusual position of playing someone that is quicker and moves better than him. The announcer was probably right that he didn’t know what he was doing and it’s probably because he is used to having the speed advantage. If you look at his path to the Delray title, he beat several top players but none are as fast as him.

  • Duke Carnoustie · August 31, 2018 at 3:13 am

    Sascha Zverev has dropped 15 games in his two matches and faces countryman Kohlschrieber next.

    Sascha had some interesting things to say in his presser. He mentioned facing Kohli in his first USO appearance in 2015, a first-round loss in five sets.

    More importantly, Sascha said he is approaching the Open differently than his first three visits. He says he doesn’t go out at all and just eats at the same three restaurants. He also said he spends less time on site because it is too noisy and draining and is spending more time with his team.

    Obviously Lendl loved the peace of Greenwich so this is definitely the Lendl effect on Sascha.

  • Hartt · August 31, 2018 at 6:59 am

    It’s interesting how NTC itself can affect how players do at the USO. Edberg has talked about how he had to find a way to deal with the noise and pace of the city. Milos, who loves NY, said it important not to let the city drain you of energy, not get you distracted, when playing at the USO.

    It sounds like Sascha is starting to learn those lessons.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 31, 2018 at 7:15 am

    Hartt, the commute to Flushing Meadows is always an adventure and if there’s construction or an accident or a lane closure it becomes a catastrophe. It’s draining just getting there. Surprised some players don’t stay in the cheap hotels within walking distance of the tennis center, there are a couple that are a two minute bike ride away. Not very nice area though but hey why not Rambo it for the fortnight?

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 31, 2018 at 7:17 am

    Forest Hills would be a nice place to stay during the US Open, wonder if any players stay there? Got some hard courts there too. Forest Hills is just a few miles away from Flushing Meadows.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 31, 2018 at 7:20 am

    de Minaur is better than Tiafoe at this point and smarter. Hewitt is a far better coach than Ginepri. Remember, Hewitt once double bageled Ginepri. I’m beginning to wonder if Ginepri is the right coach to take Tiafoe up to the top ten range, he’s stagnated for a while now. Losing to de Minaur should spark some serious thinking by Tiafoe. Hewitt and de Minaur outsmarted Team Tiafoe with the tactics of counterpunching and mixing up the speeds to the Tiafoe forehand. Tiafoe couldn’t handle the sudden fastball to his loopy forehand stroke.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 31, 2018 at 7:23 am

    Dan, Ginepri is no match for Hewitt when it comes to coaching and tactical advice. That’s a brutal mismatch. Tiafoe should hire Roddick or Spadea next. Or Fish. Or McEnroe. Why doesn’t McEnroe like Tiafoe? McEnroe said he wants to hop on the Kyrgios bandwagon and coach Nick but why not the Tiafoe bandwagon.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 31, 2018 at 7:26 am

    Mohamed Lahyani did the sport a service yesterday. He did the fans a service. He did the US Open a service. Now we get the match of the tournament, Nick vs Fed. A book could be written about this rivalry and this match. I think Mohamed did the right thing for the sport and the US Open. It’s incredible how powerful sincere words from the heart can be. Words, mere words can move mountains …and awaken a sleeping giant like Nick Kyrgios.

  • catherine · August 31, 2018 at 8:18 am

    Scoop – ok about sincere words and all that but it’s not the umpire’s job to speak them. The umpire is an impartial manager of the match. Imagine if he or she kept jumping down from the chair to offer comfort and encouragement whenever they felt like it ? Insanity.

    Who does Mohammed think he is ? A tool of the USTA and TV most likely. He’s certainly not being disciplined.

    Tennis is becoming more and more corrupt. Imagine the betting on this projected match which could turn out a big flop.

    Hartt – Edberg always hated the USO and would have preferred not to play there. Borg wasn’t too fond of it either.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 31, 2018 at 8:33 am

    Maybe the umpire’s role needs to be expanded. What Mohamed did yesterday was good for the fans, the US Open and the sport. I think most of the blame should go to Nick, he was acting like such an idiot. But Lahyani corrected the situation for the betterment of the game. If the ITF USTA or ATP won’t punish Nick for tanking, then Lahyani stepped in and took proper action. The question is why won’t the USTA ITF or ATP suspend Nick for his blatant tanking?

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 31, 2018 at 8:42 am

    Lahyani is not umpiring a match today at US Open. Let’s give Nick some credit, has there ever been such a colorful figure in the sport as this guy? He’s a walking talking controversy machine, like MUHAMMAD ALI. Tennis has never seen such a hybrid of talent, genius, explosion, controversy, drama and charisma as what we have with Nick Kyrgios.

  • Chazz · August 31, 2018 at 8:46 am

    Scoop, the only thing I disagree with is that Foe is stagnating. Last year at this time he was #70. He’s at a career high #39 now. You’re right that he needs coaching on how to beat a unique player like De Minaur. This year he has gotten some slam wins under his belt so next year it’s time to go deeper in them.

    My guess is McEnroe and other US former pros don’t want the pressure and microscope of the USTA with coaching US players and that’s why they are more open to coaching foreign players. I can’t think of any other reason.

  • catherine · August 31, 2018 at 8:54 am

    Scoop – my point is that it’s NOT the umpire’s job to intervene like that, whatever the situation. Kyrgios is supposed to be grown up. Expand the umpire’s role ? You’re joking. Nick should correct his own ‘situation’ or lose the match. The umpire’s action was coaching, which is not allowed.

    Does the referee intervene like that in boxing ? He can stop the fight but he can’t do what the boxer’s guys in the corner do.

    Imagine if a football referee did the equivalent thing. Just see Jose Mourinho explode if the ref offered encouragement to a player on a team opposing Manchester United ? I could go on….

    It’s corrupt.

  • Dan Markowitz · August 31, 2018 at 9:05 am

    I only saw the replay. I didn’t see what led up to Lahyani getting out of his chair and coming down to talk to Kyrgios. But that’s a definite no-no.

    When I umpired in Avignon playing Satellites back in 1987, the first thing they told me (I was a player and had lost in first round of qualis, and the umpires didn’t show up for the Main Draw matches and I had already lost and was thinking about where I was going to shack that night, and a tournament official came into the locker room and asked a few of the players and myself who had lost in the first round whether we wanted to umpire and make 35 francs, $7 at the time. I umpired two matches and was able to stay in a nice motel that night, well better than what I had been staying in–here’s the article I wrote about the experience in Sports Illustrated, was “don’t get out of the chair.”

    The USTA was definitely not involved in this deal. Lahyani is a great umpire and guy, but he’s a big personality, maybe not so good for a chair umpire in tennis, and I’m sure he felt it was not only an affront to the fans and Herbert, but also to himself, that Nick wasn’t trying hard enough. But he should never have gotten out of his chair to address Kyrgios’ behavior with him.

  • Chazz · August 31, 2018 at 9:10 am

    Well if the USTA wasn’t involved in the umpire’s actions, maybe the ump had some money on Kyrgios in this match.

  • Tom Sawyer · August 31, 2018 at 11:14 am

    It’s black and white — an umpire is meant to be impartial. In tennis or any sport — if umpire’s, referee’s etc. are not impartial then the integrity of the match is compromised, which is ultimately bad for the fans because they are watching a tainted competition.

    Do the ends justify the means? Sounds like Scoop believes so. That is really the debate here. I think it is a slippery slope. Much happier to see Fed and Kyrgios and I was feeling what Lahani was feeling, however he broke his integrity as an umpire and I don’t think that is even debatable.

  • Joe Blow · August 31, 2018 at 11:22 am

    Kyrgios is great for the game of Tennis is the biggest bullshit ever!

    Kyrgios is great for your 250 or 500 tournaments that need hype and attendance boosts. But this douchebag thinks he only needs to play top 3 players, or else he can act like an asshole on court in front of paying customers.

    Hope one day you write Facing Kyrgios, and his opponents are honest and tell you what kind of ass**** he really was

    How you keep putting Spadea in the same breath as JMac and even Roddick is beyond me. What makes you think he’s a future great coaching mind? You fire Laurendeau every other thread about Shapovalov, what makes Spadea different, other than Dan wrote a book with him?

  • Joe Blow · August 31, 2018 at 11:33 am

    If Tiafoe was white Johnny Mac wouldn’t even know his name, unless he was paying to play at his Academy..

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 31, 2018 at 12:11 pm

    Layhani didn’t coach Nick with any tactical advice, he just tried to awaken him and spark him to play. He took matters into his own hands and didn’t just sit there like a puppet. The authorities of tennis have failed, Hewitt has failed, Tenins Australia has failed, everyone has failed to spark Kyrgios to play his best level of tennis. But suddenly Lahyani has succeeded. Maybe next time a ball kid will inspire Nick. Like Jeff Borowiak said he was losing at Wimbledon and the ballkid told him to go to net more. The ballkid overstepped his boundaries but sometimes it has to be done. I have no problem with what Lahyani did.

  • Jg · August 31, 2018 at 12:12 pm

    Scoop I agree re Tiafoe, he needs a Hewitt, Hewitt got his guy more pumped for the match,!tiafoe appeared satisfied he had a good win in round 1, maybe Tiafoe and Sock should get together and hire Gilbert for 2 months after the open.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 31, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    McEnroe only wanting to coach foriegn players makes no sense. Though so far he’s only coached Raonic, Bruguera, Philippoussis, and he expressed interest to coach Zverev and Nick. Why would McEnroe NOT want to coach Tiafoe??? Tiafoe certainly has the potential to be top ten or top five.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 31, 2018 at 12:15 pm

    Spadea is a very intelligent tennis mind, spoke with him many times and watched matches with him in Delray Beach. He would help the right player.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 31, 2018 at 12:18 pm

    jg, Tiafoe’s problem is not getting pumped up for a big match, he’s as intense as anyone today. I wonder about a player who Mouratoglu says on national TV that it looks like he doesn’t have a concept of what he’s doing and his patterns looks suspect. That’s an indictment on Ginepri by Mouratoglu.

  • Duke Carnoustie · August 31, 2018 at 1:46 pm

    I think Scoop is right that the ATP tour has coddled Kyrgios.
    Let’s not forget that Kyrgios was fined for tanking in the past so he was a repeat offender. In my mind, he was clearly tanking again.

    What Layhani did was equal to a policeman pulling you over and not giving you a speeding ticket. This has happened to me many a time when I explain myself to the cop. However, I realize the cop is being kind and is well within his rights to issue me a ticket.

    Layhani acted the same way. One could argue that Kyrgios as a repeat offender did not deserve such leniency. However, the USTA has issued two statements now defending Layhani and the umpire will not be disciplined. That confirms that the USTA wanted Kyrgios to win this match and play Fed.

    I didn’t see Layhani come out of his chair to help Herbert when he was broken every time in the 4th set – that is because the right guy was losing. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the USTA wanted this primetime matchup of Fed v. Kyrgios and Layhani was instructed as such.

  • Joe Blow · August 31, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    Tiafoe acted like he won the final after his First round win..was a weak look..Quarters of a Major is as far as I see him going..too many weaknesses, after 4 rounds at a Major, someone will figure him out

  • Duke Carnoustie · August 31, 2018 at 2:04 pm

    Dan great story. I, ahem, have a copy of that SI issue since I enjoyed the cover story.

    Every umpire knows not to do what Layhani did. Layhani himself knows that. So why would he risk repercussions for so blatantly breaking the rules? Because he was doing the USTA’s and ESPN’s bidding. It is the only explanation that makes sense. Do you seriously believe a chair umpire of the experience with Layhani would risk his job by doing something so outlandish? Layhani knew that he wouldn’t be punished and did what he could to help the tournament out, as he was instructed. It’s the only explanation that makes sense.

    I wonder if Fed fans are in an uproar since they should be. Don’t forget the ATP is pushing the NextGen so much yet they don’t have success in Slams. The US Open needed this matchup on many levels.

  • Duke Carnoustie · August 31, 2018 at 4:00 pm

    Fed v. Clownios is a day match. I wonder what the reasoning is there.

    Djoker at night v. Gasquet.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 31, 2018 at 4:09 pm

    Duke, everyone coddled Kyrgios, that’s how his tanking became such an obscenity. They could have hammered him early but did not. Layhani took matters into his own hands and he created a beast. Imagine if this is the turning point of Nick’s career and he wins four of the next eight majors 🙂

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 31, 2018 at 4:12 pm

    Joe I agree, Tiafoe has a foundation, he has the desire and passion and intensity, but he’s lacking a tactical acumen. He’s such a raw talent that just needs some fine tuning and perhaps a more accomplished, coach. After this loss to deMinaur I’m convinced it’s time to move on from Ginepri. Tiafoe is now ranked around where Ginepri was for the majority of his career. Not a coincidence.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 31, 2018 at 4:15 pm

    Duke your theory holds some water but… How could anyone know Layhani’s words would have such a profound impact on Nick? Nothing else has been able to spark Nick, not even Lleyton Hewitt. I don’t buy the conspiracy of ordering Layhani to do this, the odds of this scheme of working were a long shot. Agree that Fed may be being phased out for the NEXTGEN, did you see that Nick vs Fed will be day session tomorrow and not night? That’s a surprise.

  • Jg · August 31, 2018 at 4:21 pm

    Ginepri was also criticized for letting Tiafoe skip the tournament after Delray and not playing in a tournament until Indian Wells where he was flat, he should have struck while iron hot. I think it was Gilbert who criticized but not sure who.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 31, 2018 at 4:22 pm

    Weird USTA decision, maybe there is a push to promote Djokovic into becoming the next face of tennis, now that Federer is fading. I would guess this is a political, long term decision, to begin the process of installing Djokovic as the next Face of Tennis. This will give Fed an added incentive. Very interesting. Scores: Djokovic def Gasquet 62 62 62 Nick beats Fed 76 in the fifth.

  • Joe Blow · August 31, 2018 at 8:13 pm

    Sat night, Labor Day Weekend is not the bigger spot. During the old CBS days the Goffin match would have been on, and both Fed and Djoker would have sandwiched a Wimens match

  • Joe Blow · August 31, 2018 at 8:15 pm

    The guy that had to start at 11am would have been pissed

  • Duke Carnoustie · August 31, 2018 at 9:59 pm

    Certainly when Fed was a Nike athlete, this kind of thing never happened since Nike wanted him in the most visible slots. Of course, Nike doesn’t even sell merchandise at the Open these days.

  • Hartt · August 31, 2018 at 10:42 pm

    There were mixed results for Canadian player today. Milos won against Stan in 3 sets. In his on-court interview Milos acknowledged that he was lucky to win the first set TB. However, he got better as the match progressed and by the third set he was definitely the better player, breaking Stan twice, including when Stan was serving to stay in the match.

    Milos faces Isner next. Given Milos’ current form I think he has a good chance at winning that match. He lost his last match to John when he got injured about half way through it.

    Shapo was not as successful, losing to Kevin Anderson in 5 sets. Shapo was not at his very best, but he did have a competitive match against a top 5 opponent who was RU at last year’s USO. I imagine Denis will have a break now before the Davis Cup tie that takes place in a couple weeks. Milos has also committed to playing in it.

  • catherine · September 1, 2018 at 2:05 am

    Joe – in the old days the ‘Wimens’ match would have been the women’s final. Nowadays the women actually have a spot to themselves which is fairer don’t you think ?

    Of course CBS decided those matters, and as John McEnroe once memorably said ‘the USTA is chickenshit scared of CBS’.

  • Joe Blow · September 1, 2018 at 8:22 am

    I’m not talking about draws. Talking about how in the old days, when CBS had the broadcast rights in the States, the first Sat, on Labor Day weekend, the night match was given to the lowest of the top seeded men, usually their only night match. Wasn’t deemed a “ showcase event” . The Jerry Lewis telethon got better ratings.

    Nowadays with ESPN providing all-day coverage its hard to tell, but College Football starts this weekend and I think ESPN wishes they could push Tennis to the Tennis Channel just for today. Some middle of the pack football game would get a better rating than even Fed/Kyrgios

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 1, 2018 at 8:33 am

    This is the best win for Raonic in a long long time. Stan was clearly back in Stanimal mode. Raonic is at the top of his game right now as is Isner. Shapovalov has nothing to feel ashamed about, he put up an incredible effort vs rock solid Anderson who is in major title form for the last year. Shap is right there in that ballpark of being on the cusp of winning a major, he really forced Anderson to dig deep and earn it. Sandgren is in doubles with his pal Austin Krajicek not Withrow.

  • catherine · September 1, 2018 at 9:49 am

    Joe – Sorry, I was actually thinking of the last Saturday, when the two men’s semifinals were played around the women’s final and CBS thought it was a wonderful idea.

    I covered the USO then and there were plenty of complaints about the way CBS decided the schedule.(I would have watched the first Saturday night match from my hotel room probably, if at all.)

    McEnroe often moaned about the schedule. He thought the USTA and CBS both had something against him.



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