The boy snapped. Denis Shapovalov – lots of hair, not much experience, less judgment – had the hopes of Canadian tennis on his still-youthful shoulders. In the fifth and deciding rubber of Canada’s match against Britain, the 17-year-old lost the first two sets against Kyle Edmund. When the Englishman broke him early in the third set, his world collapsed – there was no hope. Then, in a moment of thoughtless fury, the kid randomly smacked a tennis ball with all his adolescent might. In a horrific second the ball smashed into the left cheekbone of a French umpire just 15 yards away.
Overwhelmed by pain and shock, Arnaud Gabas slumped in his chair in a daze. An eerie hush instantly descended on the rowdy, partisan Ottawa crowd. Shapovalov’s shoulders fell. He knew – this was a sports tragedy. Any hope of a Canadian victory vanished. Soon he’d be defaulted. Far worse, if his blast had landed just an inch higher, Gabas could have lost his eye.
Sadly, the gentlemanly game of tennis has had to endure assorted moments of violence. A Stefan Edberg serve hit a US Open linesman, who then had a fatal heart attack. Tim Henman fired a ball that hit a Wimbledon ball girl. Jeff Tarango’s wife slugged an ump. David Nalbandian bloodied the knee of a linesman at London’s Queens Club. Italian Maria Vittoria Viviani, who, like Shapovalov, is 17, was just disqualified from the Aussie Open for striking a ball that hit a ball person.
But, with the exception of Monica Seles being stabbed by a depraved Steffi Graf fan, this could well have been the most shocking flash of violence tennis has seen. What began as a teen’s dream senselessly ended as a sport’s nightmare.
Afterward, Shapovalov, who is said to be a good kid, was contrite. He was fined $7,000 and apologized to Gabas and said “it was a stupid move” and that he was “incredibly ashamed and embarrassed.” He added, “I’m lucky Gabas is okay,” and said he would learn from this and it wouldn’t happen again.
Britain will go on to play their next round of the Davis Cup in France. As for the US, Captain Jim Courier relied on Jack Sock, John Isner and Steve Johnson to sprint past a Swiss team without Federer and Wawrinka. From April 7-9 the US will be in Australia for the Davis Cup quarterfinals. Other match-ups are Spain at Serbia and Italy at Belgium.