A young boy was left in tears during a French Open match when Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu narrowly avoided being defaulted from the tournament after hitting him with her racket.
Bad behaviour and racquet abuse on the court have been contentious issues in men’s tennis all season-long, but the drama on Thursday came from the women’s draw.
World No 63 Begu was down a break in the third set of her second-round match against Ekaterina Alexandrova when she bounced her racquet on the ground in frustration. It was innocuous enough, and not violent in any way, but the racquet flew further than expected and hit a child in the stands directly behind the umpire (watch video below).
The boy cried out in pain and the match was stopped while a lengthy exchange between Begu, the child’s family, umpire Anis Ressaissi and the tournament supervisor, who was called onto the court to mediate, ensued.
She eventually got off scot-free, escaping with only an unsportsmanlike conduct warning, and posed for photos with the child at the end of the match, which she won 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-4.
“It’s an embarrassing moment for me, so I don’t want to talk too much about it,” a visibly shaken Begu said post-match. “I just want to apologise. You hit the clay with the racket, but you never expect to fly that much. My whole career I didn’t do something like this, and I feel really bad and sorry.”
But Begu’s opponent, 30th seed Alexandrova, was far from pleased about the lenient decision. She disputed the verdict with the supervisor and, when Begu broke back immediately after the incident, she was irate.
Fuming, Alexandrova launched a ball into the air and off the court entirely, saying “So I can do that too?” before smashing her racket onto her bag and arguing with Ressaissi. He gave her a warning for her trouble and the crowd booed his announcement of it.
“So disappointed to leave Roland Garros like that, I was trying to do my best, but seems like the rules were against me today,” Alexandrova wrote on social media afterwards. “This shouldn’t be happening. I hope after today’s match rules will be improved for everyone’s safety. We are responsible for our racket.”
Begu should consider herself a lucky woman, as similar instances of players putting others in harm’s way have even seen major champions sent packing.
Novak Djokovic was famously ejected from the US Open in 2020, after he angrily hit a ball which injured a line judge. At the Australian Open in January there were also calls for Nick Kyrgios to be disqualified for angrily launching a ball into the crowd and hurting a child too, but he famously gifted the injured party a racquet to smooth things over, and survived the scare.