MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — After winning a grueling, tightly contested match that lasted nearly four hours, Tomas Berdych didn’t expect to be met by a stadium full of booing and hisses.
Berdych, the seventh seed from Czech Republic, was jeered by the crowd for refusing to shake hands with his opponent, No. 10 seed Nicolas Almagro, because he believed the Spaniard had deliberately struck him with a ball during a point at the end of the fourth set.
Berdych was initially cheered by the spectators at Hisense Arena following his 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3), 7-6 (2) win in the fourth round of the Australian Open on Sunday, but the crowd turned on him in an instant when he refused to shake Almagro’s hand at the net.
The booing drowned out his post-match, on-court interview and continued until he walked off.
“I think when you have a point and someone wants to hit you straight to your face, I don’t see this as a nice moment,” Berdych said during the interview, struggling to be heard over the noise from the crowd.
Berdych was angered by what happened in the 11th game of the fourth set, with the score level at 5-all. The Czech player approached the net and hit a volley and Almagro chased it down and hit a forehand that struck Berdych in the arm.
As Berdych flopped to the ground, the ball bounced back over the net and Almagro put it away to win the point. He then approached the net to apologize to Berdych, but Berdych didn’t look at him.
Berdych said during his post-match news conference he didn’t believe Almagro acted in a sporting manner.
“Probably whoever played the tennis knows that the court is pretty big, and you always have some space to put the ball in,” he said. “This is not the way how tennis is. Even if you have this point, you always have enough space to where to put the ball and not actually try to hit the other guy.”
Almagro said he did what he needed to do to win the point.
“When I win the point, I say sorry to him three or four times,” he said. He added through a translator, “I could leave the court with my head held high and I would like to thank the crowd for their support.”
When Berdych was asked whether he thought Almagro’s on-court apology was enough, he replied: “You think is this enough to apologize? He should play the ball differently. That’s it.”
The Australians in the crowd weren’t the only ones on Almagro’s side. Former player Brad Gilbert, who is working as a TV analyst at the tournament, tweeted: “Really poor of the Birdman not to shake hands with Nico … I am stunned with Tomas.”
Berdych tried his best to play down the incident in his news conference, saying it was already in the past.
“We don’t have any problems at all together,” he said of his relationship with Almagro. “That’s how it is, you know. It was pretty tight match, and I think it’s more about the game than just this story.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press