Aryna Sabalenka may just have been named WTA Newcomer of the Year, but her on-court behaviour has left a lot to be desired. And that’s putting it mildly.
That is after footage of her on-court tantrum with a ball boy went viral on social media.
Playing is a quarter-final match at the China Open in early October, which she eventually lost, Sabalenka, angry at not having a drink to hand, shook an empty bottle in the direction of a ball boy, before throwing it at his feet.
Now the 20-year-old has apologised and vowed to “never do it again”.
Frankly, this is just not good enough. Whilst the apology may be genuine, it should be pointed out that the incident in question happened nearly three weeks ago, and it was only it was broadcast widely on social media and Twitter that the Belarussian suddenly felt the need to own up to what she had done.
And she hardly helped her own defence by admitting “I didn’t even remember this”, as if an incident in which a grown woman abuses a 12-year old child is an everyday occurrence in her life.
Coming on top of a similar incident at the Shenzhen Open when Spain’s Fernando Verdasco ranted at a ball boy for not bringing a towel fast enough, a pattern of bad behaviour is staring to emerge amongst some over-privileged tennis players that suggests they believe such actions on court are justified.
Even Roger Federer, who recently said that tennis should set an example to other sports when it came to respectful behaviour, and that it should extend to the treatment of ball boys and girls, sought to mitigate the actions of some of his fellow professionals by noting that emotions can run high in the course of a match, and that tennis is more intense than it used to be.
Sorry Roger,that does not wash.
Here, a parallel with football may be drawn. Emotions run just as high in a football match, the competition at the elite level is just as top, and the global audience for a top match dwarfs that for a similar tennis contest.
They also use ball boys.
If a professional soccer player were to abuse a ball boy in a similar way to either Sabalenka or Verdasco, they would face severe sanctions.
The case of Chelsea and Belgian international Eden Hazard is a case in point. In 2013, during a tense cup-tie with Swansea City, he became involved in a tussle with a ball boy who was trying to hold on to the ball too long and tried to kick it out of his hands. He was immediately dismissed, given a three game ban and a heavy fine, and narrowly escaped a police caution.
It is time for the ATP and WTA to take a tough line with these badly behaved stars, and hand out fines and tournament bans so that they understand clearly what is acceptable behaviour on a tennis court, and what is not.