- 17 Jun 2020
What happened exactly on that day and why it is memorable in tennis history
On this day, the 17th of June 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 chin in anger after losing a point. Although he probably did not intend to hurt anyone, his gesture did not leave the officials any choice and Marin Cilic was given an awkward victory.
The guys involved
David Nalbandian, 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-final in all of them, 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 consecutively the two last Masters 1000 of the year in Madrid and Paris, achieving a unique feat in Spain: defeating the three best players in the world, he remained the only player to beat Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in the same tournament.
Struggling with motivation on top of numerous injuries, he left the top 10 at the end of 2008 and he had only claimed two of his eleven career titles since then. In June 2012, he was ranked No 39 in the world.
Marin Cilic, 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, edging Mardy Fish in the final (6-4 4-6 6-2), and he reached his first and so far only Grand Slam quarter-final in 2009, defeated by future champion Juan Martin del Potro (4-6 6-3 6-2 6-1).
He 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 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 main grass court event after Wimbledon, numerous tennis legends lifted its trophy through the years.
Up to June 2005, 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 and Lleyton Hewitt in 2002. Hence why the Queen’s final was always watched closely by the pundits.
The 2012 Queen’s Club Championship had been full of surprises already. The two first 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 last 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 shin, causing considerable bleeding. To the disappointment of the public, the supervisor had no other option than defaulting him for this unsportsmanlike conduct, although he tried to apologize and explain he did not mean to hurt anyone. After this unexpected twist, Marin Cilic was the 2012 Queen’s Club champion.
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 racket or maybe you scream or maybe you do something like that. So many things happen at that kind of moment.”
What next (postérité du moment)
In 2013, after a last final lost 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 players, 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.