Umpire Mohamed Lahyani came under fire on Thursday at the US Open when he left his chair and appeared to be giving Nick Kyrgios a pep talk during the Aussie's second round win over Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Umpire Mohamed Lahyani came under fire on Thursday at the US Open when he left his chair and appeared to be giving Nick Kyrgios a pep talk during the Aussie’s second round win over Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Kyrgios was trailing Herbert 4-6, 0-3 when Lahyani came down from his chair to talk to him.
The Swedish-Moroccan umpire was heard saying words of encouragement to Kyrgios, who eventually asked for the trainer and was attended to the next changeover.
“I want to help you, I want to help you,” Lahyani was overheard telling Kyrgios.
He added: “I’ve seen your matches: you’re great for tennis…
“I know this is not you.”
After the conversation that reached well beyond Lahyani’s officiating role, Kyrgios managed to turn the match around, dropping just six games of the remaining 25 to set up a third round against Roger Federer.
During his on-court interview, Kyrgios was asked about what Lahyani told him during their chat.
“He was just concerned about how I was playing, like, ‘Nick are you okay?'” replied Kyrgios, who has been dealing with a lingering hip issue and told reporters after his first round that he has been getting cortisone shots on his knees every two days.
Kyrgios later told reporters in his press conference that he doesn’t consider the conversation with Lahyani to be coaching and that it was simply a warning, similar to ones he has received in the past from other umpires, who wanted him to avoid tanking.
Asked if the chat with Lahyani had any effect on him being able to turn the match around, Kyrgios said: “Not at all. The same thing happen to me, 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’.
“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 not effect at all.”
Kyrgios added that he didn’t necessarily see it as a pep talk.
“I’m not sure it was encouragement. He said he liked me. I’m not sure if that was encouragement. He just said that it’s not a good look,” he explained. “Look. I wasn’t feeling good. I know what I was doing out there wasn’t good. I wasn’t really listening to him, but I knew it wasn’t a good look. It didn’t help me at all.”
Federer was questioned about the incident in his press conference after he defeated Paire, and was clear in saying it was “not Lahyani’s place” to do what he did.
“It’s not the umpire’s role to go down from the chair. But I get what he was trying to do. He behaves the way he behaves. You as an umpire take a decision on the chair, do you like it or don’t you like it. But you don’t go and speak like that, in my opinion,” said Federer.
“I don’t know what he said. I don’t care what he said. It was not just about How are you feeling? Oh, I’m not feeling so well. Go back up to the chair. He was there for too long. It’s a conversation. Conversations can change your mindset. It can be a physio, a doctor, an umpire for that matter.
“That’s why it won’t happen again. I think everybody knows that.”
This is not the first time Lahyani has attempted to encourage players during his matches.
In Sydney in 2016, he tried to convince Bernard Tomic to focus on his match against Teymuraz Gabashvili after the he admitted he was already looking ahead to the Australian Open since he heard he got a good draw in Melbourne.
In Wimbledon 2014, Lahyani was officiating a match between Gael Monfils and Malek Jaziri in which the former was complaining to his box throughout about not wanting to compete, and voicing his discomfort on grass.
In an attempt to give him a soft warning for tanking, Lahyani kept persuading Monfils to play seriously and the Frenchman eventually won in straight sets.
Asked if he would feel upset if Lahyani ends up getting sanctioned, Kyrgios said: “I don’t believe that he deserves it. I mean, the umpire in Shanghai didn’t cop any backlash. It happened to me in Cincinnati two weeks ago against Del Potro, the exact same thing happened. I wasn’t putting forth my best performance.
“I did the same today. The umpire was like, ‘Nick, you can’t be doing this. It’s a bad look’. Same thing happened there. I’d be disappointed, yeah, for sure.”
Meanwhile, WTA player Donna Vekic saw the video of Lahyani talking to Kyrgios on Thursday, reposted it and said: “Didn’t know umpires were allowed to give pep talks.”
Kyrgios responded to her with a tweet, then deleted it and posted a second one.
He then deleted the second tweet and apologised.
The USTA released a statement from the tournament referee that described what happened between Lahyani and Kygrios.
“With Kyrgios down 0-3, chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani left his chair to check on the condition of Nick Kyrgios. He came out of the chair because of the noise level in the stadium during the changeover to make sure he could communicate effectively with Kyrgios,” read the statement.
“Lahyani was concerned that Kyrgios might need medical attention. Lahyani told Kyrgios that if he was feeling ill, that the tournament could provide medical help. He also informed Kyrgios that if his seeming lack of interest in the match continued, that as the chair umpire, he would need to take action. He again suggested to Kyrgios that he could receive medical attention. At the next changeover, Kyrgios down 1-4, received treatment from the physio.”
Replayed footage of the physio’s visit to Kyrgios shows the Aussie telling him: “I just called the doctor. Can you just stay out for two minutes. I don’t know, just f****** check my wrist or something? Do you have some salts?”
The physio gave Kyrgios some salt packets and left.
Herbert was understandably disappointed for not maintaining his lead and was asked about Kyrgios’ conversation with Lahyani.
“On court I tried to focus on myself. I just saw that Mohamed went down at the chair. I was a little bit surprised. He went to talk to him. I didn’t listen to what they said because I tried to be focused on me, because it’s not easy to play someone who’s playing, not playing, you don’t know,” said the Frenchman.
“On court, I tried to concentrate on myself. I didn’t see what happened. I just saw that Nick from that point started to playing really, focused, 100 per cent. Yeah, then I saw what happened after the match.”
Herbert blames himself for losing, but also believes Lahyani crossed a line.
He said: “I don’t know what to think. I don’t know if something happened, if Mohamed would have said something or not, it wouldn’t have changed anything. I cannot tell you.
“I just can tell you from that point Nick was playing much better.
“Actually, the umpire doesn’t have to talk to him at all. The only thing he can tell him is, yeah, ‘Pay attention, because if you continue like this, I’m going to give you a warning’, something like this.
“They can tell him from the chair. He doesn’t need to go down. He doesn’t need to say the words he said on the video. I think this was not his job. I don’t think he’s a coach, he’s an umpire, and he should stay on his chair for that.”
Herbert added: “I don’t think he has to go down and take the position of a coach, like you see on the WTA Tour. I don’t know yet if it would have changed something. I just know he doesn’t have to do that.”
Asked why he thinks the chair umpire felt the urge to do that, Herbert said: “I think Mohamed, he’s actually a really good umpire. I think he knows everybody. I think he cares for Nick. He cares for the show also because people were going after the first set. Everybody was there for the start. When they saw Nick in a bad mood, I would say, for the first two sets, they started going away.
“I think like everybody, I think Nick today could be an amazing player. Just sometimes he’s mentally, yeah, not here. I don’t know where he was for the first two sets. I know he was on court after when he started playing, when he kicked my ass and was much better than me.”
Meanwhile, Kyrgios is looking forward to a blockbuster third round with Federer.
“I’m going to go out there and compete my ass off,” said the 23-year-old Aussie.