Dan Evans swears at umpire after angry bust-up at Italian Open

Dan Evans was furious with referee Mohamed Lahyani
Evans was furious with referee Mohamed Lahyani - Sky Sports Tennis

Dan Evans’s bumpy season continued in Rome on Thursday night, as he became involved in an angry bust-up with chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani.

In a match that had been delayed by over 24 hours by wet weather, Evans was contesting a deciding set against local hero Fabio Fognini when a dispute blew up over a line call.

The point was an important one, as Evans was holding break point to get back on serve, and Fognini appeared to have blasted a drive-volley wide.

Yet Lahyani insisted that the ball was in, pointing to a mark in the clay which — according to Hawk-Eye evidence — was not the one left by Fognini’s shot.

When Evans became irate, claiming — with some justification — that “you couldn’t show me the mark, the ball didn’t hit the f---ing line”, he earned a code-violation warning.

On the face of things, the row was not the turning point in Evans’s 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 defeat. He did eventually score a break in that Fognini service game, despite Lahyani’s intervention.

Yet one suspects that the incident had a deflating effect on Evans, who lost the next three games after the next change of ends. He spent that changeover arguing vociferously with Lahyani.

“All I’m asking is for you to show me where the ball landed,” Evans said, “but you couldn’t because you didn’t know. It’s over, forget it. Can you tell me why I had an unsportsmanlike conduct?”

“Yes,” Layhani replied, “because you have used the F-word today. I totally agree [that Evans had a valid point to make] but you don’t shout at me and use the F-word. If you had talked to me in a normal way, I would have accepted it.”

The defeat continued a dismal run of results for Evans, who has lost 11 of the 14 matches he has played thus far in 2024. His ranking dropped into the low 60s — the worst it has been in almost five years — when he lost in the first round in Barcelona last month, thus failing to defend the semi-final points he won last year.

There is also a wider point here about tennis officiating, which has become more error-prone across the board since electronic line calling (ELC) became the norm on the professional tour. Umpires have become passengers for the vast majority of hard-court matches, and they appear to be losing their edge as a result.

Clay-court events are the last to rely on human eyes alone, because of the extra technological challenges involved in tracking a ball’s movement on this shifting, uneven surface.

The ATP — which runs the men’s tour — insists that it will be ready to bring in ELC at all its clay-court tournaments next year. For the moment, though, we are seeing an above-average number of disputes over ball-marks in the red dust.

As world No4 Daniil Medvedev put it, during an extended rant in Monte Carlo a month ago, “They don’t know how to referee any more. Who will take responsibility?”