- Joel Drucker
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It's rare to see a tennis player abuse himself to the point that he draws blood. But that's what happened earlier this week when Mikhail Youzhny hit himself so hard with his racket that he soon resembled a hockey player. Here's a look at five notable unintelligent moments in recent tennis history.
A Nation Sits In Silence: Wimbledon (2004)
Karolina Sprem had won the first set of her second-round match versus Venus Williams, 7-6. The second set also reached 6-6. In the tiebreak, Sprem served into the ad court at 1-2. Sprem's serve was called out by the linesman. Williams knocked the ball back to Sprem, who cracked a backhand into the open court. Both players at this point were well aware that the score was still 1-2. But chair umpire Ted Watts called out the score as 2-2 -- even though Sprem was still set to hit a second serve into the ad court. Williams then hit a return winner. Though it should have been 3-1, Watts called the score as 3-2. Sprem should have served the next point into the deuce court, but instead Williams began her serving sequence from the ad court. Both players looked confused, but neither Watts nor anyone in the well-behaved British crowd dared say a word. The extra point proved critical, as Sprem went on to win the tiebreak and the match.
KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Only three reporters were waiting when Mikhail Youzhny walked into a small interview room after his late match with Nicolas Almagro on Monday night, blood still oozing from an inch-and-a-half-long gash on his hairline.
I'd had my head down in the press work room, writing, and didn't personally witness the third-set head-bashing incident that has since become an instant Internet video classic. ATP spokesman Pete Holtermann alerted me to it immediately after it happened and I followed the rest of the action as the Russian shook off his self-inflicted wound and advanced to the round of 16.
As my colleagues from England and the Netherlands questioned Youzhny about the match, I watched the blood trickling lower and lower on his forehead and considered calling the first-ever mid-interview medical time out.
Finally, I blurted out, "Are you all right?'' One of the other reporters fished around in his bag and offered Youzhny a tissue, which he pressed against the egg swelling through his buzzcut.
Youzhny is an intense guy, but he told us he'd never done anything quite so violently zany on the court before. "Were you embarrassed to have to call the trainer at such a critical time in the match?'' I asked. "I didn't want to,'' he said, equal parts stoic and sheepish. "But then I saw the blood dripping on the court.''
Almagro lost his temper a couple of times too, as Youzhny noted: "We were just two crazy boys out there.'' With that kind of pain threshhold, don't be surprised if the Russian hockey team enlists him as a goon.
Today I asked James Blake, who critiqued himself for being passive in his loss to Rafael Nadal, whether he'd been tempted to knock some sense into his head Youzhny-style. "My strings are strung way too tight,'' Blake said. "If I hit myself just with the strings I'd be bleeding. Mardy Fish does that. He punches the strings and ends up bleeding on his knuckles. I did that as a kid and I kind of stopped doing that. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense.''
"Youzhny got over half a million hits on YouTube,'' Michelle Kaufman of the Miami Herald chimed in.
"Maybe I should -- maybe I'll get more popular,'' Blake said. " No, I don't think it's worth it.''
-- Bonnie D. Ford
Hingis Crosses the Line: French Open (1999)
Most of the time, Martina Hingis' head was her finest asset. But in the final of the 1999 French Open, Hingis' mind ran a little too rich for her own good. Eager to dispatch 29-year-old Steffi Graf and earn her first French Open title, the 18-year-old Hingis was wound up from the outset -- but at 6-4, 2-0, appeared well on her way to victory. On the first point of the next game, Hingis hit a forehand return that was called long. Unwilling to accept the call even when chair umpire Anne Lasserre inspected the mark left on the clay, Hingis committed an unpardonable act -- walking over to Graf's side of the court to check the mark herself. The crowd, already firmly on Graf's side, cascaded Hingis with loud boos. The Swiss clearly was rattled, and though she would later have the chance to serve for the title at 5-4 in the second, Graf's tenacity and the increasingly partisan crowd completely unraveled Hingis. Graf won the match, 6-2, in the third. A teary-eyed Hingis left the crowd to the sound of 16,000 people booing her. Never again would Hingis win a Grand Slam singles title.
Slap Shot: Tarango Tantrum: Wimbledon (1995)
Like John McEnroe, Jeff Tarango was a hot-headed left-hander who'd played at Stanford. There the commonality ended, as Tarango's highest singles ranking was 42. At Wimbledon that year, trailing in his third-round match versus Alexander Mronz, Tarango became increasingly annoyed with chair umpire Bruno Rebeuh. "That's it, I'm not playing," he said after one perceived injustice. Screaming at Rebeuh, Tarango said, "You are one of the most corrupt officials in the game." After his request to have Rebeuh removed was denied, Tarango walked off the court, defaulting the match. As the crowd jeered, Tarango yelled, "Shut up." A few minutes later, Tarango's wife, Benedicte, slapped Rebeuh twice in the face. Tarango was subsequently banned for two Grand Slam tournaments and fined $63,000.
Johnny Mac Forgets The Rules: Australian Open (1990)
John McEnroe had always been exquisitely aware of how far he could push the limits of the rules. But on this day he made a rare miscue. In the fourth set of his round-of-16 match versus Mikael Pernfors, McEnroe missed an easy approach shot and tossed his racket to the ground so vigorously that it cracked -- an automatic point penalty that gave Pernfors a 4-2 lead. Seeking to argue his way out of the penalty, McEnroe told the supervisor to engage in a sexual act with his mother. At that point McEnroe thought he'd merely receive yet another warning, perhaps merely a whole game. But a new series of rules created by McEnroe's own union, the ATP, had streamlined the penalty process. Instead, McEnroe was summarily defaulted.
Connors Tries To Win Friends: Australian Open (1975)
At one set apiece in the 1975 Australian Open men's singles final, Jimmy Connors was the benefactor of three tight line calls. Then the most hated man in tennis, Connors, sought to endear himself with the crowd and intentionally served a double fault. Though the fans applauded, Connors' opponent, John Newcombe, felt patronized and incensed. "That's something a goose would do," said Newcombe, "and the only thing you do with a goose is put him in the oven and cook him." Newcombe promptly broke Connors' serve and took the next two sets to win the title.
Joel Drucker is based in Oakland, Calif., and writes for Tennis Magazine and Tennis Channel.
Oh, Mikhail, did you really think your graphite-laced tennis racket was going to take the brunt of the punishment after your self-inflicted skull-bashing? Well, it didn't, but our man Joel Drucker points out that this was not the only act of stupidity.