Hewitt's outburst not racist, referee decides after review

Posted: September 02, 2001

NEW YORK — One day after Lleyton Hewitt caused a ruckus with his behavior during a match against an African American opponent, the U.S. Open referee said Hewitt did not make a racist remark and would not be fined or reprimanded.

Tournament referee Brian Earley said he investigated the incident, in which Hewitt complained about a foot-fault call by an African American line judge in his match against James Blake on Friday. According to a transcript provided by the U.S. Open, Hewitt complained to umpire Andreas Egli: "Change him, change him. I have only been foot-faulted at one end. OK. Look at him. Look at him, and you tell me what the similarity is. Just get him off the court. Look at what he's done."

Earley said that Hewitt did not use "similarity" to refer to skin color, although many people who saw the exchange thought otherwise because Hewitt appeared to wave a finger at Blake. After reviewing tape of the incident and talking with Hewitt, Blake, the umpire, and the linesman, Marion Johnson, Earley concluded there was no harm, so no foul. Earley said that he did not consult with other African Americans while making his decision, one that was far from easy.

"If it were easy, then it would not have been misconstrued," Earley said. "I only can say that I would have to draw conclusions from what I see and what I hear that . . . he was definitely making racist remarks, and I can't do that from what I have. I can't say the court of public opinion won't do that."

Meanwhile, Hewitt, who has a history of using inappropriate language and later denying he did so, again apologized for the incident.

"I have spoken with James Blake, and we discussed the situation," the Australian said in a statement released by his agent at Octagon. "I apologized for unintentionally causing an incident [Friday], which detracted from a hard-fought match, and James' outstanding performance."

Love game. Last year, Xavier Malisse was a footnote to the Jennifer Capriati comeback story. He was the starry-eyed Capriati's boyfriend, hanging with her in the players' lounge and hitting with her on off-days.

Yesterday, the fiery Malisse continued to build his own tennis reputation, outlasting ninth-seeded Tim Henman in the third round, 6-7, 6-3, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4. He will play No. 30 Greg Rusedski in the fourth round.

Unlike last year, Malisse and Capriati are not attached at the hip, not living together, not in love with each other. Since their breakup, both players have flourished on the tennis court, with Capriati slimming down and winning the Australian and French Opens, and grabbing the No. 2 seed in the women's draw. Malisse outlasted Kenneth Carlsen in the first round, then beat No. 21-seeded Fabrice Santoro in the second round.

"I think I took my life under control," Malisse said of his well-being since splitting with Capriati. "I started working hard. I'm starting to believe in myself. I knew I had the talent, you know, the strokes and stuff. But at that time, I didn't have it mentally.

"I don't know what she did. I mean, you know, it was enough. We both had enough, and, you know, I had to move on. So I quit everything, and that's it."

Money honey. After beating Lisa Raymond, 6-3, 6-4, yesterday, Venus Williams was asked about a recent Time magazine article that said that Williams and her sister, Serena, are Jehovah's Witnesses. A reporter asked Venus: "Do you respect all the rules, don't celebrate birthdays, Christmas and spend some money?"

"Oh, I spend money," Venus replied quickly, then laughed. "But I don't celebrate birthdays, I don't celebrate Christmas. You know, I'm not involved in really any holidays that most people celebrate."

Ashley McGeachy's e-mail address is amcgeachy@phillynews.com.

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