Disqualified doubles player wins mixed title – then breaks down in tears at 'unjust' decision

Disqualified doubles player wins mixed title - then breaks down in tears at 'unjust' decision - Shutterstock/Yoan Valat
Disqualified doubles player wins mixed title - then breaks down in tears at 'unjust' decision - Shutterstock/Yoan Valat

The Japanese doubles player Miyu Kato – who was defaulted from the French Open for hitting a ball-girl in the neck – has come away from the tournament a winner.

On Thursday, Kato and her German partner Tim Puetz claimed the mixed title in Paris, becoming the most popular champions of the year.

After overcoming Bianca Andreescu and Michael Venus by a 4-6, 6-4, 1-0 (10-6) scoreline, an emotional Kato read out a prepared statement in which she said that her punishment was “unjust”.

She explained she hoped to recoup her lost points and prizemoney from the women’s event – both of which are automatically denied to any defaulted player – via an appeal.

In the interview room afterwards, Puetz thanked the organisers of the tournament for showing discretion in allowing Kato to play the mixed doubles. As he put it: “The standard procedure would have been to take us out of mixed, as well.

“It’s a thank you with a little pain in our hearts still, of course, especially in Miyu’s. But they took into consideration what has happened, they went out of their way to talk about it, to let us keep playing mixed. We are called grand-slam champions now really only because they took into consideration what was going on.

“I think it ended up just being right,” Puetz concluded. “Miyu, sitting here today, not crying anymore, I think is a great thing. think this is a good end to this whole story.”

A 28-year-old who turned professional in her late teens, Kato has been a quiet yet largely unnoticed presence on the tour. Until now, her highest-profile moment was a run to the semi-finals of the women’s doubles at the 2017 Australian Open.

Yet Sunday’s incident at Roland Garros has arguably been the most discussed story of this tournament, with most observers agreeing with Kato’s own assessment of an “unjust” decision.

Back in Japan, TV stations have been clamouring for interviews, although English-speaking media have mostly had to rely on Puetz to serve as an intermediary.

On Monday, Puetz eloquently addressed the original decision, which was taken by supervisor Wayne McKewen after chair umpire Alexandre Juge called him to the court.

“Two supervisors have to come on court, possibly didn’t even see it,” said Puetz. “All they see is a crying ball girl who got hit with a ball. In that moment to make that decision is very difficult.

“While I don’t necessarily agree with it, I think I can understand how you would get to that decision. To not have the option to look at the pictures – I think that possibly might be something we can add in today’s day and age, especially on big courts like that.”

The essential difference between Kato’s case and the one involving Novak Djokovic at the 2020 US Open was that Djokovic had swatted a loose ball aside in anger, and accidentally sent it straight into a lineswoman’s throat.

As for Kato, she was simply looping the ball gently back to the ball-girl – who happened to have both hands full, and froze rather than ducking out of the way.