He hit a fan at Roland Garros. Djokovic was disqualified, the Frenchman was not. “Circus” Tennis

He hit a fan at Roland Garros.  Djokovic was disqualified, the Frenchman was not.  “Circus” Tennis

Big confusion during the first round match of this year’s Roland Garros. French Terence Atmane (ATP 121) and Austrian Sebastian Oefner (45) competed on one of the side courts. During the fourth set, Atmane accidentally hit a fan with the ball.

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After one of the exchanges, the referee called a throw-out. The Frenchman, upset by this fact, hit the returning ball very hard and directed it towards the stands. He had absolutely no control over where the ball was going, and it unfortunately hit one of the women in the audience.

The rival wanted the Frenchman disqualified

There was a huge confusion. Oefner demanded that Atmane be disqualified for this behavior. The Austrian was surprised by his rival’s reaction and wanted a severe punishment for him. Immediately after the incident, the main referee of the match went towards the stands to check the condition of the injured spectator.

Then he had a conversation with the chief referee (supervisor), who is responsible for conducting the tournament in accordance with the rules of the game of tennis. After a few minutes, we heard the decision – the Frenchman received a warning, but he was not disqualified.

Oefner ultimately won in five sets, defeating Atmane 3-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2, 7-5. It looked like it would be a big surprise for a long time, but the Austrian defended himself from a 0:2 score. During and after the match, there was no shortage of comments from journalists and fans as to how it was possible that the Frenchman was not disqualified for his actions.

There were suggestions that the hosts favored the French player. Terence Atmane got to the main event as one of the tennis players competing thanks to the so-called “wild card”. – I am surprised by the judges’ decision – said the famous tennis journalist Jose Morgado. – This is a scandal, Atmane should be disqualified immediately. He had no right to remain on the court, argued French journalist Benoit Maylin.

Storm in the comments

There was also outrage on Twitter, among others: British tennis player Liam Broady – the same one who defeated Hubert Hurkacz during the Olympic Games in Tokyo three years ago. – I think the refereeing in this match was terrible. The referee approached the fan to talk to her, while 1,000 French fans in the stands chanted “Let him play.” What a circus – said the Briton.

There are also doubts because, in a similar situation, Novak Djokovic was thrown out of the US Open 2020 tournament. After losing a game, the Serb hit the ball in front of himself with his racket. There was also no intention to hurt anyone, but the ball hit the referee standing behind the end line. After a lengthy discussion between the referees, Djokovic was disqualified from the New York event at the fourth round stage. The Spaniard Pablo Carreno-Busta then advanced to the quarterfinals.

There are accusations of double standards. Are the critics right? We asked Gabriela Załoga for a comment. She is a Polish tennis referee who worked at Grand Slam tournaments. The expert begins his statement by pointing out an important circumstance: “The main referee does not decide on disqualification. He only collects evidence, and the decision is made by the tournament supervisor.” The latter is responsible for interpreting the rules of tennis.

As the crew points out, “Tennis rules are not rigid and nothing happens automatically.” The key facts are the premises on the basis of which the decision to exclude or not to participate in the event is made. In such situations, the main referee always calls the chief referee to the court.

The case of Atmane and Djokovic

Atmane’s case met the requirements of the following provision of the Grand Slam rules (introduced by the International Tennis Federation): “Players must not violently, dangerously or angrily hit, kick or throw a tennis ball on the tournament grounds, except in legitimate pursuit of a point during match (including warm-up).

As Gabriela Załoga explains, in such situations, judges collect information that will allow them to assess the entire situation. They check the condition of the injured person (in this case a female supporter), how the ball was hit, from what distance, whether it bounced off an object before hitting the female supporter or whether it hit the woman directly.

The expert sent us an article she wrote four years ago on medium.com, assessing the case of Novak Djokovic. – This allows you to assess the action: whether it was intentional and how dangerous it was. The judges then check what damage this action caused. Comparing the evaluation of the action with the result allows you to make a decision – she said then.

Why wasn’t Atmane disqualified like Djokovic earlier? – I think the difference is the result of the tennis player’s action. This means that the unintentional action did not cause any drastic consequences, says Załoga.

After being hit by the Serb, the ball accidentally hit the referee in the larynx, and she had trouble breathing. Recordings and photos suggest that the supporter was hit in the knee by the ball during the Atmane-Offner match. She did not report any serious injuries, which influenced the supervisor’s final decision.


Should it be different? Should every, even unintentional, hit by a fan or referee with the ball as a result of a tennis player’s anger be automatically punished with disqualification? The regulations give judges interpretative freedom. Its absence could also cause controversy.

What are the rules in such situations?

Assessing the outcome of illegal behavior was also important a year ago during the third round match of the Roland Garros women’s doubles. Miyu Kato and Aldili Sutjiadi were disqualified after the former hit the ball girl after a play. The child burst into tears and did not hide the pain he felt.


During the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Novak Djokovic out of anger threw his racket into the stands after one of the actions. He was lucky that they were almost empty due to the lack of fans in Japan during the pandemic. When assessing that situation, the result was also important – the Serb did not hurt anyone. Or maybe the regulation should punish the mere possibility of harming someone?

Gabriela Załoga repeats in such situations that referees are not there to set the rules. Here the ball is in the court of the tennis authorities, led by the International Tennis Federation. Similarly, when we ask the expert whether referees should not be assisted by a computer to watch video replays in such cases: “Referees are responsible for the facts on the court, they do not create regulations on whether they should have computers or not. I will not answer this question.”

The ball-hitting stories are a bit like the hand-in-the-box dilemmas in football. Some football supporters and experts postulate that every time a player touches the ball in such a situation, the referee should be obliged to award a penalty kick. However, the regulations are more complex and require the arbitrator to evaluate the entire event. It is similar in the case of tennis matches. You can theoretically introduce the best rules, and then sports life will come and verify it.

2024-05-28 10:06:00
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