Connors Banned for 10 Weeks and Fined $20,000 : Action Taken After He Stormed Off Court in Match With Lendl
The Men’s International Professional Tennis Council announced Monday that it has suspended Jimmy Connors for 10 weeks and fined him $20,000 for storming off the court after he was defaulted in a match against Ivan Lendl at Boca Raton, Fla., Feb. 21.
His suspension leaves professional tennis without either of its top drawing cards--Connors and John McEnroe. McEnroe is taking time off the tour and it is not known when he plans to return.
Marshall Happer III, administrator of the Pro Council, said Connors violated the provisions of the MIPTC code of conduct relating to the major offense of “aggravated behavior.”
Connors is playing in a tournament in Chicago and, unless he decides to appeal, the suspension will begin when that tournament ends. If the suspension is not delayed by appeal, it will extend through the French Open, to be played May 26-June 8. That would make this the first time that a player has been suspended through one of the four Grand Slam tournaments for misconduct.
Connors was noncommittal Monday. “At this point, I can only concentrate on my tennis,” he said in a statement. “I will review the decision with my attorneys during the next few weeks.”
Connors will probably consider the practicality of an appeal. To a player of his wealth, $20,000 is not a substantial penalty, and, according to the rules, he may play exhibitions. In addition, Connors was not scheduled to play in any tournaments before the French Open. If he does not appeal, he will be out of tennis only through the end of May. If he elects to appeal and if the appeal drags out and he loses, Connors could miss the U.S. Open Aug. 25.
The loss of No. 5-ranked Connors and the uncertainty of McEnroe’s return to the tour leaves slim pickings for American tennis promoters. Most promoters agree that names, rather than rankings, bring fans to matches. Top 10 players such as Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg and Yannick Noah may be excellent tennis players, but they lack appeal to American fans.
“There are really only three or four top players who are great draws,” Charlie Pasarell said from New York. Pasarell is a member of the Pro Council and the director of the Pilot Pen tournament at La Quinta, where Connors played last month.
Pasarell named McEnroe, Connors, Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl as major drawing cards. “You have to have at least one of these players in a major tournament,” he said. “After that, you have a group of about six or eight guys, of which you need two or three to have credibility.”
If that’s the case, some tournament directors may see trouble ahead. Making matters worse, many players will be playing in clay court tournaments in Europe in preparation for the French Open, thereby reducing the talent pool for domestic events.
In the incident at Boca Raton, Connors protested what he said was a bad line call in the sixth game of the fifth set--a call that gave Lendl a 3-2, 40-0 lead.
Umpire Jeremy Shales, after imposing a 15-second warning, gave Connors a code-of-conduct warning for delay of game. The 33-year-old Connors then was penalized a point when he refused to continue play, giving Lendl the game and making the fifth-set score 4-2 for Lendl.
Connors continued to protest, and was assessed a game penalty, making it 5-2 for Lendl.
After Ken Farrar, chief MIPTC supervisor, had failed to persuade Connors to continue play, the left-hander was defaulted for taking too much time.
Connors has since stressed that he did not quit the match.
“I wish you guys would clear this up,” Connors told reporters the next week at a tournament in Palm Springs. “I didn’t quit, I was defaulted.
“I take full credit, good or bad, for what I’ve done. If I’m suspended, I’ll just go home and ride my horses. I was standing up for the rights of players. I’ll tell you, if a lot of guys could afford it, they would do it. I did it because I thought it was right.”
Lendl agreed with Connors that Shales was not in control of the match. Both players have clashed with the umpire at other tournaments this year. Connors has said that he doesn’t regret standing up to Shales. “There are too many wimps in tennis,” Connors said.
After the tournament, Happer began an investigation. Connors testified by telephone and was represented at a hearing by an attorney who presented evidence on Connors’ behalf.
At the conclusion of the investigation, Happer decided that Connors’ conduct constituted “aggravated behavior” and imposed the fine and the suspension. Connors was told of the ruling March 17.
Michael Davies, chairman of the Pro Council, said in a statement confirming Happer’s decision: “It is the position of the Council that there is a special public trust between a professional tennis player and the fans who pay to see him play that should never be breached. Here we had a serious breach when Jimmy refused to play and caused himself to be defaulted.”
The $20,000 fine is the maximum authorized under the Code and is in addition to the $5,000 assessed Feb. 21 by Farrar for “failure to complete a match.”
It was the largest fine by the Pro Council since it fined Guillermo Vilas of Argentina $20,000 in 1983 for accepting an illegal $60,000 appearance fee. Vilas also was suspended for one year, but a review board threw out the suspension, although it ordered him to pay the fine.
Ilie Nastase holds the dubious distinction as the player with the longest suspension, 126 days in 1983.
Under the provisions of the Pro Council’s Code of Conduct, Connors may appeal the decision within 30 days for review by three impartial review officers. In that case, the suspension will be delayed pending a decision on appeal.
Previous appeals by other players have met with mixed results. McEnroe appealed a $5,000 fine after misbehaving at the 1983 Wimbledon and won. However, the rules at the time required the review board to return a unanimous decision if it chose to reject the appeal. The board voted, 2-1, to reject McEnroe’s appeal.
Pasarell said he was sent material regarding Connors’ case and viewed videotapes of the match. He said he agreed with both the amount of the fine and length of suspension assessed by the Pro Council.
“I do not think he was made an example of,” Pasarell said.
A tournament official in Boca Raton had said Connors’ behavior had to be punished severely in order to rein in other players on the tour. “There is a lot (rules) written about this. The council looked at what happened and justified their decision based on that.”
Pasarell, who is a friend of Connors, said he doesn’t think the sanctions will cause Connors to leave tennis.
“It won’t break him,” Pasarell said. “I don’t think that staying away from tennis for 2 1/2 months is going to hurt you. It’s no different from McEnroe’s leave of absence.”