Budapest, Hungary – The Budapest Grand Prix on the WTA Tour took a shocking turn when Chinese tennis player Zhang Shuai was forced to retire in tears after her opponent, Hungarian player Amarissa Toth, was embroiled in a cheating scandal during their round-of-32 match.
The contentious incident occurred during a closely-fought first set when, at 5-5, Shuai challenged a call from the line judge that ruled her shot had landed out. As the match was played on outdoor clay courts, the ball’s landing location is visible due to the mark it leaves on the red dirt.
Before the umpire could intervene and verify the shot’s landing, Toth took matters into her own hands. Toth approached the mark and rubbed it away with her foot, infuriating Zhang Shuai, who exclaimed, ‘Wait, wait, wait! Keep the mark. What are you doing? Why would you do that?’
The home crowd, firmly in support of Toth, jeered Zhang as she sought to speak with the tournament supervisor. One spectator even called out ‘time violation,’ while Toth, merely 20 years old, seemed to find amusement in the situation.
Play resumed, and Zhang bravely won the next game, taking a 6-5 lead. However, the emotional toll was evident during the changeover, leading to a physio calling in to check on her. Despite her efforts, Zhang Shuai eventually made the heart-wrenching decision to retire from the match, prompting more jeers from the crowd.
After exchanging handshakes with the umpire and Toth, Zhang left the court, leaving her opponent to celebrate with fans, raising her arms in victory following the controversial retirement.
The tennis community was quick to condemn Toth’s actions. Ajla Tomljanovic, a member of the cast of the Netflix tennis documentary BreakPoint, expressed her outrage, stating, ‘Absolutely disgusting behaviour. Shuai is a better person than many of us for shaking the ref and that girl’s hand.’
Australian doubles player Ellen Perez echoed the sentiments, saying, ‘I’m actually shook by the level of disrespect from this girl… If I see this girl tomorrow, I will tell her how disgusted I am.’
In the aftermath of the scandal, Zhang took to social media to share her frustration and thanked her supporters, saying, ‘All efforts on practice were wrong because when you wanted hitting closer to the line, even touched the line still OUT… I love you guys and all girls who supporting me and standing my side.’
The controversial incident has sparked a wider conversation about sportsmanship and respect on the tennis court, with many calling for strict measures to prevent such behaviour.
As the tennis world grapples with the fallout from this unfortunate event, the focus remains on fair play and upholding the spirit of the sport, with fans hoping to see Zhang Shuai recover and return to the court with the dignity and grace she has exhibited throughout her career.