1. Sports

A crude rant gets Fabio Fagnini booted out of U.S. Open, and good riddance

Fabio Fognini of Italy is provisionally suspended from playing in the U.S. Open after an X-rated rant against a female chair umpire. [Associated Press]
Fabio Fognini of Italy is provisionally suspended from playing in the U.S. Open after an X-rated rant against a female chair umpire. [Associated Press]
Published Sep. 3, 2017

NEW YORK — One of the biggest victories at the U.S. Open on Saturday didn't happen on a tennis court. It was even sweeter than a great sports performance, and much more satisfying, too.

It materialized when Italian player Fabio Fognini was kicked out the door.

Fognini, the No. 22 seed in singles who lost in the first round but had advanced to the third round in doubles, was provisionally suspended from playing in the Open after an X-rated rant against a female chair umpire during his first-round match Wednesday.

He unleashed a barrage of Italian curses upon Louise Engzell, a veteran umpire. Fined $24,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct, he now faces much more serious punishment.

On Saturday, the Grand Slam Board, comprising officials from tennis's four Grand Slam events, said that it was investigating to see if Fognini had committed a major offense during the match.

The board wouldn't elaborate, but a major offense, according to Grand Slam rules, includes violations like a single episode of egregious behavior or "conduct contrary to the integrity of the game."

If the board proves the major offense, Fognini will face up to $250,000 in fines and may be permanently barred from future Grand Slam tournaments.

Based on his actions at the Open this past week, it appears that those maximum fines would be more than warranted.

It was much too little and a little too late, but Fognini apologized on Twitter on Thursday, saying sorry to fans — but not to the umpire — for his behavior.

"It was just a very bad day, but it did not forgive my behavior during the match," he wrote in Italian. "Although I'm a hothead (and though I've been right in most circumstances) I was wrong. But in the end it's only a tennis game."

Good thing for this tennis game, then, that it has lately taken a powerful stand against the harassment of women — especially now that it's common to have female chair umpires for men's matches at top tournaments. (Women have been umpires for about one-third of the men's singles matches at the U.S. Open so far.)

In July, the International Tennis Federation barred Romanian Fed Cup captain and former tennis star Ilie Nastase from any Fed or Davis Cup events until 2019, and from any official role at federation events until 2021, for his sexist and racist remarks last spring. He was also barred from this year's French Open, and Wimbledon officials did not invite him to the Royal Box.

At a Fed Cup match last April, Nastase, the 1972 U.S. Open champion and 1973 French Open champion, made sexual advances on British Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong and called her and British player Johanna Konta bitches. He also made abusive threats to match officials and uttered racist comments about the skin color of Serena Williams' baby.

All that, and Nastase had the gall to appeal his ban.

In Fognini's case, it might take a while for officials to decide his fate. Given his past behavior, though, it should be a no-brainer. Here's another no-brainer: After breaking the rules with his rude behavior again and again, he has trouble learning a lesson, even after paying hefty fines. Officials can't let this go on.

Apart from the obscenities he spouted during his match Wednesday — these were captured by TV cameras and microphones — Fognini was fined $27,500 at the 2014 Wimbledon for unsportsmanlike conduct, which included outbursts and an obscenity.

That year he also apologized for his bad behavior at the Hamburg Open, where he referred to his Serbian opponent, Filip Krajinovic, with an ethnic slur, calling him a Gypsy.

He later posted on Twitter that he made a mistake and "didn't want to offend anyone."

"I know Filip very well and anyone who plays sports knows that at times you get carried away saying things that made no sense," he wrote, failing to point out that he has gotten carried away too many times in the past.

Fognini didn't stick around Saturday after being kicked out of the tournament, apparently leaving without telling his doubles partner, Simone Bolelli, that he had forced their withdrawal, according to Italian news reports.

He did leave with some unpleasant parting words for Ubaldo Scanagatta, a veteran tennis journalist from Italy who founded the site

"Fognini told me: 'I'll break that phone on your head! Write, write, you imbecile, you idiot!' " said Scanagatta, who later posted the exchange on Twitter.

The upside: When Fognini said this, he was on his way to pack his bags.