On this day in 1990, tennis star John McEnroe became the first ever player to be ejected from the Australian Open.
At the 1990 Australian Open, McEnroe was trying to win his first major tournament since the 1984 U.S. Open. In this fourth round match against Sweden’s Mikael Pernfors, a two-time NCAA champ, McEnroe started strong (winning the first set easily), but Pernfors made the necessary adjustments and won the second set. It was now the third set and McEnroe led 2-1.
As the players switched sides on the court, McEnroe stopped by a lineswoman he thought had made a bad call earlier and stared her down. Gerry Armstrong, the chair umpire, gave McEnroe a violation for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The game continued, and it was now the seventh game of the fourth set with McEnroe leading the match 6-1, 4-6, 7-5, 2-4.
McEnroe threw his racket to the ground after hitting a forehand wide to go down 15-30.
Just a couple plays later, it was another wide forehand that led to another racket smash, this time cracking the racket’s head. Armstrong called McEnroe for another violation (for racket abuse), and McEnroe started yelling and swearing at him, demanding the presence of Ken Farrar, the Grand Slam chief of supervisors.
With Farrar’s approval, Armstrong called a third and final violation: “Default Mr. McEnroe. Game, set, match.”
As McEnroe stood there in disbelief, the crowd of 150,000 began booing immediately at the call. Most had no idea what was going on. The last player to be disqualified from a Grand Slam for misconduct had been Willie Alvarez of Spain, in the 1963 French Open.
In a press conference following the match, McEnroe explained that he was unaware that the previous year’s four-step process to default had been changed to a new three-step rule: first a warning, then a point penalty, then a default.