Tensions Run High in Australia
PERTH, Australia — Tempers flared repeatedly Friday in singles and mixed doubles matches at the Hyundai Hopman Cup between top-ranked American Mardy Fish and the 20-year-old Bulgarian Grigor Dmitrov, tensions that peaked with the two needing to be separated by a tournament official during a changeover.
With the Czech Republic having already won Group A earlier in the day, the final round-robin tie of the tournament could have become the sort of low-stakes “hit-and-giggle” that often takes place in relatively meaningless tennis matches, especially common in mixed doubles.
The women’s singles match that began the tie went without incident, as the 55th-ranked American Bethanie Mattek-Sands earned her first victory of the tournament with a workmanlike effort against 46th-ranked Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, winning 6-4, 6-4.
But Fish, 30, seemed to take issue with the Bulgarian’s intensity in the singles match, and appeared to have some harsh words for the 76th-ranked Dmitrov at the net when the two shook hands after Dmitrov had reeled off a 6-2, 6-1 victory in just 58 minutes.
According to Tim Gossage of Channel 10 in Australia, Fish was given a code violation warning during the match for spitting in the direction of a block of flag-waving Bulgarian fans who were sitting several rows above the court.
In his interview after the singles match (which was his first career victory over a top ten player) Dmitrov seemed stunned by the eighth-ranked Fish’s behavior.
“Um, I think it’s better if you ask him,” Dmitrov said.
“It’s a thing, obviously, that maybe he wasn’t happy, but I’m sorry if I did something wrong. I’m going to also apologize to him in the lockers when I see him, but I don’t want to say much else about it.”
But rather than calming down after the short break between matches, tensions only escalated in the mixed doubles.
With Fish serving and trailing 1-3, Dmitrov hit a return, slipped, then scrambled to his feet and smacked a forehand winner past Mattek-Sands on his next shot. After staring down Dmitrov, between points, Fish sent his next serve (which was to be served to Pironkova) flying past Dmitrov. Dmitrov then closed toward the middle of the court for Fish’s second serve, standing practically on top of the center service line in encroachment and intimidation. A long, oft-spectacular rally ensued on that point, with Fish and Grigor sending smashes at one another almost exclusively. When Bulgaria eventually prevailed in the exchange, Dmitrov let out a roar toward the Bulgarian box and gave a fist pump.
Fish continued to target Dmitrov throughout the rest of the game, eventually holding serve to pull the Americans within 3-2.
During the ensuing changeover, Fish , who had taken his seat, shouted across at Dmitrov, who had never taken his seat. After the two argued from a distance for some time, the American walked over to the Bulgarian’s side of the court (where he was set to next play) and the two continued to argue, eventually being seperated by a tournament official. The two continued to talk back and forth for the duration of the changeover, eventually departing to their respective baselines once their female partners rose to join them.
In a nod to the rising tensions, the Hopman Cup DJ played Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” during the next changeover, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
While the rest of the match remained tense, no further confrontations occurred. After Bulgaria sealed an 8-5 victory in the proset when Fish’s final forehand volley found the net, the two teams shook hands. Dmitrov and Fish spoke briefly again at the net, without incident.
The win made the underdog Bulgarians the only team to have won three round-robin doubles matches at the Hopman Cup this year.
Dmitrov spoke briefly about the incident on Bulgarian television network BNT after the doubles match.
It’s evident I’ve offended him with something, but I have no idea with what,” Dmitrov said.
“Things he said weren’t pretty, but clearly he is a top ten player and during the match no one said anything to him.”
Fish declined to comment directly on the incidents as he left the Burswood Dome, instead indicating that the scoreline of his matches was the only explanation needed for what had transpired. Fish, who won the Hopman Cup with Serena Williams in 2008, won only 2 of his 12 sets at the event this week.
Dmitrov boarded a transcontinental red-eye to Sydney immediately following the match to play a qualifying match at the Apia International Sydney, Saturday morning at 11 a.m. Sydney time, roughly nine hours after the mixed doubles in Perth ended. Dmitrov won the match in three sets against Estonian Jürgen Zopp.
Fish, who had lamented the brevity of his off-season after his match Wednesday, will play next week at the AAMI Kooyong Classic exhibition tournament in Melbourne.
Tournament referee Soren Friemel said that he would be filing a match report with the I.T.F., but did not expect any further discipline to be handed down