A Japanese doubles player was disqualified from Roland Garros on Sunday after accidentally hitting a ball girl during her third-round match.
Miyu Kato and her doubles partner Aldila Sutjiadi, of Indonesia, were ejected from the tournament after an apparently innocuous incident turned more serious when the ball girl began sobbing.
Early in the second set Kato was positioned close to the net and carelessly flicked a ball towards the ball girl at the back of the court. Her action seemed to be an attempt to pass the ball to where her opponents would be serving the next game.
However, the ball girl, who had a ball in each hand already, could not get out of the way quickly enough and was caught on the back of the neck.
— Telegraph Sport (@TelegraphSport) June 5, 2023
A controversial ending to a women’s doubles match as Kato/Sutjiadi were disqualified for hitting a ball girl ❌ pic.twitter.com/qaFHF8UpnT
— Eurosport (@eurosport) June 4, 2023
Umpire Alexandre Juge gave Kato a warning for the offence, but the situation escalated when her opponents, Marie Bouzkova and Sara Sorribes Tormo, alerted him that the ball girl was crying. Bouzkova was even heard suggesting that the girl was bleeding.
The pair continued lobbying for Kato and Sutjiadi to be defaulted and, as things got more heated on Court 14, at least one spectator shouted out: “disgrace”.
Soon the tournament referee, Remy Azemar, was called to the court and, after conferring with the umpire and the crying ball girl, disqualified Kato and Sutjiadi.
It prompted boos from the crowd, while Sorribes Tormo and Bouzkova were seen sniggering in their chairs as Kato and Sutjiadi were told that they had been disqualified.
The tournament supervisor, Wayne McKewen, referred to Novak Djokovic’s infamous default at the US Open in 2020 – when a ball he hit in anger caught a line judge on the throat – as setting a precedent for this type of disqualification.
“Even though you don’t mean it, you’re still responsible for that action,” McKewen told Kato. “It’s very similar to what happened in New York with Djokovic. He hit the ball backwards. It wasn’t intentional but it doesn’t matter. If a ball hits them and they are injured, you are responsible.”
The grand slam rulebook states that “players shall not violently, dangerously or with anger hit, kick or throw a tennis ball”. Abuse of balls is defined as “intentionally hitting a ball out of the enclosure of the court, hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences”.
Lack of consistency in applying the rule
Kato apologised to the ball girl on Twitter, saying: “It was completely unintentional.
“As a result, I am penalized by RG [Roland Garros] by forfeiting my prize money and points. I appreciate all your continued support.”
The decision on Sunday remains a controversial one, as there appears to be a lack of consistency in applying the rule.
On Saturday, Russian teenager Mirra Andreeva escaped a similar fate to Kato, despite angrily thwacking the ball into the stands.
Defaulted players lose all ranking points and prize money they were due to receive from the tournament.
Kato did not hold a press conference despite being requested to do so, while Bouzkova called the incident “unfortunate” but part of the rules.
“It’s kind of something that I guess has to be taken by the rules. Even though it’s very unfortunate for them,” the Czech player said.
“I think the warning first happened because [the umpire] didn’t see that she was crying and was in that kind of pain. The ball or the situation has to do some kind of harm to the person affected by it and I think originally he didn’t see that and then obviously he saw that she’s been crying for another 15 minutes.
“We told him that he should look more into it because all we saw was that the girl was crying. The ball went directly at her, so it wasn’t like the ball bounced and it was just some kind of a slower ball. That’s what we told him, just to look into it more.”