THE US OPEN 2018 - LAHYANI GATE
By Adam Hassan
In the second round of the US Open, Nick Kyrgios of Australia was playing Pierre-Hughes Herbert of France. Kyrgios, a much more talented player than his opponent, was 6-4, 3-0 down. Kyrgios was doing what he often does; looking disinterested, giving the impression that he doesn’t care, and looking like he wants to be anywhere but on the court. He was taking wild swings at the ball and not running for shots. He had basically made a conscious decision that he was going to tank this match (lose the match on purpose), which is something that he does far too often.
Then, at the changeover at 3-0, the umpire, Mohamed Lahyani, came down from his chair and stood over Nick Kyrgios. Lahyani was heard to say, “I want to help you. I’ve seen your matches. You are great for tennis. I can see that. I know this is not you.” He was trying to boost Kyrgios and cajole a performance out of him, for the sake of the occasion, for the sake of the integrity of the game and for the sake of all those people who were there to watch a good tennis match and were starting to boo.
Kyrgios came back from that changeover and looked like a different player, as the score turned around completely. Kyrgios took the second set to a tie-break, which he won. He then proceeded to win the next two sets comfortably, thus winning the match 4-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-3, 6-0.
Lahyani received a lot of criticism for this, because what he did is explicitly, fundamentally prohibited from his job. He is unable to perform his job if he shows any signs of bias or impartiality, and that is precisely what he did. No one is saying that his intention was to change the course of the match, but the way he was crouched over in front of Kyrgios made it look and sound like he was performing the role of a coach.
Later that evening, Pierre-Hughes Herbert released a statement, saying: “After my loss in the second round of the US Open against Nick Kyrgios and the controversy that followed I feel like I needed to give my point of view. First of all, I didn’t hear the discussion between Lahyani and Nick, and it did not affect me at all. Nick, from his side, is not to blame, as he did not ask for anything, but his behaviour and motivation on court changed from this moment and then he dominated the match. On the other hand, after seeing the video, I am angry against the umpire. He should not go down out of his chair and try to reason with Nick.”
Despite criticism from the US Tennis Association (USTA), Lahyani was allowed to continue umpiring for the rest of the US Open, albeit on less high-profile matches. However, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), which is in charge of men’s tennis outside of the Grand Slams, suspended Lahyani for two weeks after the US Open, as they said in a statement that “Lahyani’s actions in the match were deemed to have compromised the impartiality that is required of an official.”
However, this whole incident completely distracted away from the fact that Nick Kyrgios was tanking a second round US Open match. His behaviour was dreadful, and the fact that all of this happened, and the fact that everyone is pretty much in agreement that Kyrgios himself was blameless in this incident, that he didn’t solicit that assistance from Mohamed Lahyani, has deflected from the completely separate issue that Nick Kyrgios was purposely failing a second round match, and that is appalling.