Umpire Mo Lahyani appeared to give a struggling Nick Kyrgios a pep talk at the U.S. Open on Thursday, sparking a controversy an infuriating fellow players at Flushing Meadows.
Cameras showed Lahyani coming out of his chair and approaching Kyrgios while the Australian was down 0-3 in the second set to Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Lahyani appeared to offer words of encouragement to Kyrgios, who ended up winning the match 4-6, 7-6 (8–6), 6-3, 6-0. He will face Roger Federer in the third round.
Umpires are not allowed to offer any sort of advice or encouragement to either player and are expected to stay perfectly neutral.
According to tennis reporter Ben Rothenberg, Lahyani told Kyrgios, "I want to help you, I want to help you," "I've seen your matches: you're great for tennis," and "I can see that; I know this is not you."
After the match, Kyrgios addressed the incident.
"He was just concerned about how I was playing - he was like: 'Nick are you OK?'" Kyrgios said.
"I was like: 'Yeah everything is fine.' I just wasn't feeling great."
Herbert seemed to view the interaction differently.
"You never know what woudl have happened if [Lahyani] didn't go down [from] the chair and start talking to him," he said.
"He doesn't need to go down. He doesn't need to say the words he said on the video. I think this was not his job. I don't think he's a coach, he's an umpire."
After initially releasing a statment that seemed to clear Lahyani of wrongdoing, the USTA said on Friday that Lahyani acted "beyond protocol" but said he will continue to officiate matches at the U.S. Open.
Herbert issued a statement later in the evening.
Federer was among a number of fellow players who felt the umpire's actions were inappropriate.
"It's not the umpire's role to go down from the chair," he said after his match. "You don't go and speak like that.
"It was a conversation, and coversations can change mentality."
Professional Donna Vekic tweeted about the possible pep talk, and Kyrgios tweeted his thoughts back.