June 17, 2012: The day David Nalbandian was disqualified from the Queen’s final after injuring a line judge

Every day, Tennis Majors takes you back in time to relive a tennis event which happened on this specific day. On this day in 2012, the Argentine player kicked an advertising board prompting some serious action from the tournament officials

David Nalbandia at the Queen's in 2012 David Nalbandia at the Queen’s in 2012

What happened exactly on that day?

On this day, the June 17, 2012, David Nalbandian was disqualified from the Queen’s Club Championships final, while leading 7-6, 3-4 against Marin Cilic. The Argentinian injured a linesman by kicking a board into his shin in anger after losing a point. Although he probably did not intend to hurt anyone, his gesture left leave the officials no choice and Marin Cilic was handed an awkward victory.

The players involved: David Nalbandian and Marin Cilic

  • David Nalbandian, the declining star

David Nalbandian was born in 1982 and was one of the most gifted players of his generation, displaying a very smooth technique and an impressive two-handed backhand. Very successful as a junior, he made himself famous in 2002, when he reached the Wimbledon final at the age of 20, defeated by Lleyton Hewitt (6-1, 6-3, 6-2).

In 2006, Nalbandian, although he was considered as one of the best players to have never claimed a Grand Slam title, had already reached at least the semi-finals at each of the four majors, and he won the most important tournament of his career at the Masters Cup in 2005, defeating Roger Federer in the final (6-7, 6-7, 6-2, 6-1 7-6).

At the end of 2007, he won the two last Masters 1000 of the year in Madrid and Paris in succession – he also achieved a unique feat in Spain: defeating the three best players in the world, and remained the only player to beat Federer, Nadal and Djokovic at the same tournament.

Struggling with motivation on top of numerous injuries, he left the top 10 at the end of 2008 and had only won two of his 11 career titles since then. In June 2012, he was ranked No 39 in the world.

  • Marin Cilic, the rising star

Marin Cilic, born in 1988, had turned pro in 2005. In 2007, he finished the season in the top 100 for the first time, as world No 71. He claimed his first title in New Haven in 2008, beating Mardy Fish in the final (6-4, 4-6, 6-2), and reached his first and so far only Grand Slam quarter-final at the US Open in 2009, defeated by future champion Juan Martin del Potro (4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1).

The Croat reached his highest ranking so far in early 2010 as world No 9. In June 2012, he was world No 25 and had claimed a total of six titles on the tour. His game relied on a massive serve and very powerful groundstrokes.

The place: The historic Queen’s Club

The Queen’s Club, founded in 1886, was the first multi-sport complex ever built. Its main activity was tennis, and it was owned by the British Lawn Tennis Association from 1953 to 2007. The Queen’s Club Championships were held there since 1890. Considered as the second most prestigious grass court event after Wimbledon, numerous tennis legends lifted its trophy through the years.

Queen's - Tennis

Up to June 2009, six times, the All England Club champion had triumphed at the Queens before : John McEnroe did it twice (1981, 1984), followed by Jimmy Connors (1982), Boris Becker (1985), Pete Sampras in 1999, Lleyton Hewitt in 2002 and Rafael Nadal in 2008. Hence, the Queen’s final was always watched followed by the pundits.

The facts: Nalbandian fined for his behaviour

The 2012 Queen’s Club Championship had been full of surprises already. The top two seeds, Andy Murray (world No 4) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (No 5), were defeated in the early rounds by Nicolas Mahut and Ivan Dodig. Four-time champion Andy Roddick, seed No 7, lost in the second round to Edouard Roger-Vasselin. In this context, Marin Cilic and David Nalbandian were contending for the title on the last day of a rainy week and the tournament was about to end with one final surprise.

The Argentinian took the first set, 7-6, his returns being as sharp as in 2002, when he finished runner-up at Wimbledon. The players were close in the second set, until Marin Cilic obtained a breakpoint at 3-3, 15-40. Nalbandian, missing a running forehand, went on to kick the advertising board just in front of the linesman.

The board did not resist his anger and the Argentinian ended up brutally kicking it into the linesman’s shin, causing considerable bleeding. To the disappointment of the public, the supervisor had no option other than defaulting him for this unsportsmanlike conduct, although he tried to apologise and explain he did not mean to hurt anyone. After this unexpected twist, Marin Cilic was the 2012 Queen’s Club champion.

David Nalbandian and the line judge at the 2012 Queen's

For his gesture, Nalbandian was denied his €45,000 prize money and fined €10,000 Later, he would reflect on his behaviour:

“I know that I made a mistake, 100%,” he said. “If I have to pay for what I did, it’s perfect, I agree. I made a mistake and I apologise and I feel very sorry for the guy. I didn’t want to do that. But sometimes you get angry. Sometimes you cannot control those moments that happen many times. Well, to me. Maybe you throw a racquet or maybe you scream or maybe you do something like that. So many things happen at that kind of moment.”

What next: Nalbandian retires without a Slam while Cilic wins US Open

In 2013, after a last final loss against Rafael Nadal in Rio de Janeiro, David Nalbandian would undergo surgery and never come back on the tour. He would announce his retirement in October 2013.

Marin Cilic, in 2012, would reach the fourth round at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the US Open, each time defeated by Andy Murray. In 2013, he would be banned four months after failing a drug test.

He would come back in 2014 to become a solid top 10 player, claiming his first and only Grand Slam title at the US Open, where he defeated Roger Federer in the semi-final (6-3, 6-4, 6-4) and Kei Nishikori in one of the most unexpected major finals of the decade (6-3, 6-3, 6-3).

Cilic would reach two other Grand Slam finals, at Wimbledon in 2017, and at the Australian Open 2018, defeated each time by Roger Federer, and he would climb as high as world No 3 in January 2018.

Currently aged 34 years old, Cilic remains ranked inside the top 70 of the world rankings, with his last title coming in Stuttgart on grass in June 2021.

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