Nick Kyrgios has leapt to the defence of chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani after the official’s extraordinary mid-match pep talk fired the volatile Australian into a US Open third-round blockbuster with Roger Federer in New York.
Lahyani is under fire for his controversial intervention after Kyrgios rallied from a set and a service break down to pull off a drama-charged 4-6 7-5 6-3 6-0 comeback win over Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Kyrgios was trailing 3-0 in the second set, having thrown away the first on a wild second-serve double-fault, when Lahyani left his chair to beg the enigmatic star to start trying for the sake of the paying crowd and to avoid being sanctioned – again – for not giving his best effort.
“I want to help you. I want to help you,” Lahyani said.
“I’ve seen your matches: you’re great for tennis,” he added.
“Nick, I know this is not you.”
Watch the pep talk below:
Kyrgios won the second set after a pep talk from the chair umpire Mo Lahyani.
A USTA rep told me it is already looking into Lahyani's conduct in this match.
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) August 30, 2018
Seeking some sort of physical treatment, Kyrgios said: “Okay. Just call the trainer to the court and I’ll try.”
But when the trainer arrived and asked what Kyrgios needed treatment for, the Australian said: “I don’t know, check my wrist or something … Can you just stay out here for like two minutes?”
The umpire’s controversial “coaching” was savaged on social media, with fans furious about his perceived bias towards Kyrgios and claiming it was unfair on Herbert.
Former Australian umpire and one-time head of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Accociation. Richard Ings, weighed in.
“I am racking my brain to think of a situation requiring a chair umpire to speak like that to one player. I umpired thousands of matches. I was ATP head of officiating. I can’t think of one,” Ings tweeted.
US Open organiser the United States Tennis Association, already under siege over a succession of rules blunders this grand slam, was also understood to be unimpressed and is investigating the incident.
Kyrgios, though, insisted Lahyani’s talking to wasn’t the spark for his fightback and said he’d be upset if the respected official was sanctioned in any way.
“It’s happened in Shanghai before, when we all know I had that moment in Shanghai, where the referee said the same thing: ‘It’s not good for the integrity of the sport, doesn’t have a good look’,” Kyrgios said.
“It happens in other sports, too. In soccer, if someone is being roughed, they get warned: ‘If you keep doing this, you get penalised’. Same sort of thing.
“It had no effect at all. I was 3-love down, (then) 5-2 down. Obviously, didn’t help at all.”
Regardless, Kyrgios certainly hauled himself back into the contest after Lahyani’s approach, having looked utterly disinterested in the early stages.
Yawning one second, Kyrgios delivered a return winner the next to break Herbert to get back on serve at 4-5 in the second before clinching the tiebreaker to draw level.
Totally revitalised, Kyrgios dropped just three games in the last two sets, sealing victory after two hours and 47 minutes.
Federer later confirmed a Saturday night showstopper with Kyrgios at Arthur Ashe Stadium – world tennis’s biggest stage – with a 7-5 6-4 6-4 win over another Frenchman, Benoit Paire.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Kyrgios said.
“I definitely know that I won’t be the favourite, the crowd favourite here.
“I go into that match with zero expectation. I do believe I can beat him. I have done it before.”