By the second set, Nick Kyrgios had earned his first boos. He’d lost the first set of today’s U.S. Open match to Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert on a double-fault second serve going 129 mph. Kyrgios’s serve—untouchable whenever he desires it to be—was broken to start off the second, and when he planted an easy overhead in the net, his charms had worn thin. Boos were now sweeping through the once-rapt crowd, and fans began to leave the court in pursuit of an actual contest. But during a changeover while he was down 4-6, 0-3, something highly unusual took place. Chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani, an especially animated official, descended from his high chair and squatted in front of the irate Australian. From my vantage point a few seats away, he appeared to be imploring the player to give a shit.
In more legalistic terms, Lahyani seemed to plead with Kyrgios to obey the tour’s “Best Efforts” rule, which states as follows:
i) A player shall use his best efforts during the match when competing in a tournament. Violation of this section shall subject a player to a fine up to $20,000 for each violation.
ii) For purposes of this rule, the Supervisor and/or the Chair Umpire shall have the authority to penalize a player in accordance with the Point Penalty Schedule. In circumstances that are flagrant and particularly injurious to the success of a tournament, or are singularly egregious, the ATP Supervisor may refer the matter to the ATP EVP-Rules & Competition who shall conduct an investigation to determine whether the player Major Offense of Aggravated Behavior or Conduct Contrary to the Integrity of the Game has occurred. Prize money earned at that event shall be held by ATP until the ATP EVP-Rules & competition has concluded his investigation and made a determination.
The camera caught only snippets of the conversation, although Lahyani clearly said, “I want to help you”:
The second set slipped to 2-5, and at this point the rest of the match looked like a formality; Kyrgios, not known for his resilience, is 2-13 after losing the first two sets. But he broke back, then held service games, and even narrowly snuck out of a tiebreak after going down a mini-break. Kyrgios had looked like a kid pushing his clammy, uneaten potatoes around his plate, but he finally began to eat in the third set.
Herbert soon faltered under the crushing pressure of a vaguely focused Kyrgios. At that set’s conclusion, both players were offered an extended break from play because of the heat. Lahyani descended from his chair again and made some idle chitchat with fans nearby. In the middle of this, I asked him why he had talked to Kyrgios. He shushed me and walked towards his chair, well before the players were to return.
Kyrgios returned to the court and proceeded to rout Herbert in a bagel set. His late-match punctuation mark was a 142-mph ace. I never saw it; I could only tell it happened because of the whip crack as it left his strings. After the match, Kyrgios denied that Lahyani had given him a pep talk, and compared it to similar talk he’d been given in Shanghai, where he was fined and suspended for tanking.
“[Lahyani] said it’s not good for the integrity of the game,” Kyrgios told reporters. “He was just telling me, ‘It’s not a good look.’”
“But it didn’t help me at all. I was down 5-2.”
His opponent was peeved. “Mohamed for sure, I’m going to have a discussion, because I think he overpassed his job, or what he’s supposed to do,” Herbert said after the match. “I think he did a mistake.” When asked what he wanted the U.S. Open to do about it, Herbert joked, “Maybe give me the prize money of the winner?”
The U.S. Open released a statement, although it didn’t really match up with the conversation that was televised for everyone to see:
Update (August 31, 11:05 a.m. ET): The U.S. Open has released another statement after conducting a review that found that Lahyani went “beyond protocol.” The tournament will allow him to keep officiating, but it’s worth wondering whether he’ll be assigned to his usual top-flight ATP and WTA matches or exiled to lesser courts. Here’s the full statement:
After a comprehensive review conducted by US Open officials, including US Open Tournament Director David Brewer, Tournament Referee Brian Earley and others, the US Open determined that chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani’s conduct during Thursday’s second-round match involving Nick Kyrgios and Pierre-Hugues Herbert went beyond protocol. Lahyani was advised to adhere to proper protocols in all matches that he officiates moving forward.
Lahyani will continue to officiate during the 2018 US Open. His performance will continue to be evaluated, as will that of all chair umpires throughout the course of the US Open.