July 17, 2017: The day Anastasia Rodionova became only the second woman ever to be defaulted
- 16 Jul 2020
What happened exactly on that day
On this day, July 17, 2007, in the first round of Cincinnati, Anastasia Rodionova became just the second player in WTA history to be defaulted from a match. The referee decided to default her without warning after she aimed an angry shot at some noisy front-row supporters while she was down 1-0 in the third set of her match against Angelique Kerber. The German was given victory, 4-6, 6–4, 1-0.
Anastasia Rodionova, from Russia, was born in 1982. She turned pro in 1997, but only entered the top 100 for the first time in 2006, a season during which she obtained her best Grand Slam result, reaching the third round of the US Open. In July 2007, she was ranked No 78 on the WTA Tour, close to her highest career ranking reached a few months before of No 64. She had never played a final on the Tour in singles, but in doubles, she had won two titles, the first in 2005 in Québec and the second one in 2007 in Estoril. Anastasia’s young sister, Arina, who was 18 at the time, also played tennis and was ranked No 350.
In July 2007, Angelique Kerber was 19 years old. She was world No 73, which was the highest ranking she had reached so far in her young career. The German lefty with Polish roots was far away from being the top player she would become several years later. She had participated in only two Grand Slam main draws, without winning a single match. Her best result in 2007 was a quarter-final reached at s’-Hertogenbosch, where she lost to Anna Chakvetadze (6-2, 6-2).
The Lindner Family Tennis Center, in Cincinnati, had been holding a prestigious men’s event continuously since 1899. The women’s tournament, though, had been held sporadically until, in 2004, it was made a part of the Western and Southern Open and it was decided it would happen every year as well as the men’s tournament.
The first-round match between Rodionova and Kerber did not draw any particular attention until things took an ugly turn at the start of the final set. Rodionova, who had taken the first set 6-4, had already complained to the chair umpire about fans seated in the front row, cheering for her opponent and being noisy during points. When she lost the second set, 6-4, her anger went to the next level. After she lost the first game of the decider, she aimed a ball in frustration in the direction of these three annoying spectators. The ball only hit halfway up the wall, but it was enough to give them a good scare, and it was enough for the umpire to consider this move as dangerous. While the players were changing sides, the chair umpire, Yvette Khan, called the referee, William Coffey. When he heard the facts, the referee decided that Rodionova was to be defaulted without a warning for such an unsportsmanlike and dangerous display of anger. The Russian, who probably thought she was going to be awarded a warning, could not believe her ears. During her press conference, with teary eyes, she explained her surprise:
“I’m shocked,” I still don’t understand why they defaulted me. I’m really upset. I’ve never seen in my life anyone defaulted in this situation. I had no warning. I didn’t hit the ball at anybody. I didn’t swear at anybody. I didn’t throw my racket.”
Although she had claimed on court that she had not specifically aimed at a particular group of fans, she partly admitted it in her statements during the press conference. Rodionova said that she hit the ball in the middle of the wall, “the safest place to hit it.” She then added : “If you’re afraid of the ball, don’t sit in the front row”. Rodionova was only the second player in WTA history to lose a match like this. In 1996, Irina Spirlea had been defaulted in Palermo for swearing at officials.
After this awkward win, Kerber would lose in the next round against Akiko Morigami (6-2, 6-2). It would take Kerber five years to become a top 10 player, in 2012. Kerber would eventually become world No 1 in September 2016 after claiming two Grand Slam titles in the same year : the Australian Open and the US Open. She would then lift a third major trophy at Wimbledon in 2018.
Anastasia Rodionova would never reach a WTA final in singles, reaching her highest ranking as world No 62 in 2010. In doubles, she would claim as many as 11 titles and become world No 15.
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