The tennis world has been rocked by an act of “absolutely disgusting behaviour” that left Zhang Shuai visibly distraught on court.
The Chinese player broke down in tears and withdrew from the match with commentators suggesting that she had suffered a panic attack as a result of an incident in the first set.
Tennis commentators around the world were horrified by the scene where Shuai was robbed of a point during her Hungarian Open match against local player Amarissa Toth, and the situation quickly erupted into a moment of immense controversy.
The 20-year-old Hungarian was finally victorious after Shuai’s retirement at 6-5 in the first set.
The situation blew up when Shuai sent a long-range cross shot to Toth’s right side. The ball appeared to land right on the line where the sideline meets the service box corner.
Shuai was stunned to see the ball called and argued with the chair umpire for several minutes. He eventually requested that a tournament supervisor be brought to court to address the matter.
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The game had continued for one more point after the controversy of 15-15, but the discord over the call continued.
After calling the tournament official to settle the matter, Shuai saw Toth walking towards the area of the court where the ball landed and told his opponent not to scratch the mark with his shoes.
Toth, however, was seen on television cameras cleaning the mark with her shoes before officials could look at her again.
Shuai was heard shouting from the other side of the court: “Wait, wait, wait, keep the mark. What are you doing? Why would you do that?”
Toth seemed to respond by saying, “Because you’re making trouble, that’s why.”
Shuai was seen looking absolutely devastated at the change of sides after the service game and a tournament doctor was eventually called onto the pitch.
Commentators on Tennis TV noted that Shuai was shedding a “sea of tears”.
Shuai was finally able to get back to his feet and offered brief handshakes with the chair umpire and Toth before quickly walking off the court while pointing to sections of the arena.
Toth held his hands up in the air and celebrated immediately after the handshake.
The crowd booed Shuai for not returning to the court at the end of the 11th service game.
Shuai addressed the matter on social media after the match on Wednesday morning.
“All the efforts in practice were wrong, because when you wanted to hit closer to the line, you even touched the line still OUT,” Zhang wrote later.
“I love you guys and all the girls who support me and are (to) my side.”
Toth has faced a spate of convictions as a result of his conduct.
Australian doubles star Ellen Perez was one of the first to declare her disappointment.
“Well, that’s a quick way to lose respect from your peers. I am actually shocked at the level of disrespect from this girl,” Perez wrote.
“If I see this girl tomorrow, I’ll tell her how upset I am.”
Ajla Tomljanovic posted on Twitter: “Absolutely disgusting behaviour. Shuai is a better person than many of us for shaking hands with the referee and that girl. But then again, it’s Shuai we’re talking about, of course he did it.
Australian Daria Saville wrote: “Zero respect for this Toth girl. ZERO! I am so, so, so angry. I feel so bad for Shuai. Toth ‘won’ this point and he ‘won’ this match, but his reputation is ruined”.
It was a devastating episode for Shuai, who has previously opened up about his mental health issues.
She was seen breaking down in tears during a French Open press conference in May after her first round loss.
She said last month that she has been struggling to cope with the death of her grandparents this year and has also been dealing with personal issues with Chinese tennis officials that have led her to stay out of her country for the past three years.
At the age of 34, his future is uncertain.
Meanwhile, Toth will face Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl in the round of 16 on Thursday.