An American tennis champion exercised her comfort with freedom of expression when she told off a chair umpire for badly calling a critical match.
One of the hottest names in tennis right now is Coco Gauff. The American pro is playing in the 2023 US Open and recently advanced past the second round (dubbed the ‘battle of the teens’ with Gauff at 19 and her opponent at 16) against Russian athlete Mirra Andreeva who are considered rivals due to their young age, rapidly climbing celebrity and impressive skill. While Gauff handled Andreeva well on the court with massive serves and point deficits, the rallies were lengthy and Andreeva hung in not unlike their prior matches. Gauff has significantly more court time on her than Andreeva, but it’s notable that Andreeva became the youngest player at Wimbledon (age 15) to reach the second week since Gauff herself.
However, Gauff’s first match was a lot more interesting to watch no matter how good the battle of the teens in the second match was athletically.
In round one, Gauff was matched against German Laura Siegemund and the match burned pretty slowly. Siegemund chose to play the match as slowly as possible. On her own serves, she let her serve clock run down almost to the limit before launching and when Gauff was up on the serve, she would take a long time to be in the ‘ready’ position.
In tennis, timing is a big part of play. It is known by fans and even hobby tennis players that slowing down a match can give a player a major advantage. Not only does it give the player an extra break to take a long time when an opponent is looking to serve, but it cools the opponent mentally and physically resulting in a weaker serve.
Basically, it’s a cultural no no in tennis to go slowly. It’s also against the rules and considered cheating.
The crowd became increasingly irritated with Siegemund’s tactics and began to vocalize their dissatisfaction that she was not given any time warnings let alone time penalties despite taking well over the normal amount of time to be ‘ready’ (the time is subjective to the umpire but commonly shouldn’t be more than a few seconds).
Finally, the umpire gave a time warning to Siegemund and the crowd went wild. When Siegemund dragged her feet again at the next serve, Gauff walked away from the net and approached the chair umpire.
In no uncertain terms, Gauff made clear to the umpire that she was not satisfied with the fairness of gameplay and she felt that the umpire was greatly under penalizing time wastes whether intentional or not intentional. The umpire pushed back that Siegemund just takes longer to ready but Gauff was not having it. Gauff pointed out that she is always respectfully ready to receive when it’s Siegmund’s turn to serve and she expects the match to be called fairly.
The crowd was living for Gauff whose entire speech was caught on the camera microphones and sportscasters from the viral video were quick to side with Gauff noting that Siegemund was taking an exorbitant amount of time between serves.
It’s notable that the issue of time was not the only issue with rules during the match. The umpire also failed to ensure the players remained standing during breaks between sets. Gauff had to ask the umpire to make her opponent stand and remind the umpire that it was against the rules to sit.
After the heated chat, Siegemund was given a point penalty for delaying the game and it was her turn to approach the umpire where she claimed she had only ever been to her towel once and the call was unfair. While the specificity of the towel might be true, viewers have eyes and can decide for themselves if Siegemund was or was not moving about as fast as an old dog in her favorite chair.
After an absolutely grueling and tedious 2 hour and 50 minute match (most are about 90 minutes), Gauff was victorious which did not please Siegemund who stormed off the court after a perfunctory hand shake and burst into the locker rooms muttering something foul enough under her breath that the door attendant reacted in visible shock.
At the press conferences after the match, Siegmund cried and accused the fans of essentially being mean to her and claimed total innocence that she was just having a slow day and she wasn’t a cheater. She cited incidents with racket throwing and tantrums and felt she was unjustly treated by the crowd. Gauff, on the other hand, said she watched the footage of her conversation with the umpire before coming out to the press conference to make sure it went as she remembered in her head and she says she’d have said everything she said in the exact same way all over again.
What do you think? Was Gauff right about the speed? Was Siegemund right that the crowd was too harsh?
Here’s the whole match if you want to decide for yourself: