Tennis has always been the ultimate noble game. Fans at matches are to be silent whether the match is played at the high school level on a cracked court or especially on the Centre Court at Wimbledon. Nearly every patron knows these rules of respect, and if they don't, the chair umpire will politely tell the rowdy fan to sit down and stay silent.
The Wimbledon Championships, in particular, is the epitome of tradition and respect. With 145 years of history and champions and tickets selling for thousands of dollars, Wimbledon is the oldest and most exclusive Grand Slam in tennis. Players and fans alike are even required to carry on the legacy and traditions of Wimbledon's past by wearing all-white clothing to the grasscourt event.
Therefore, when a drunken woman was shouting at Nick Kyrgios during the Wimbledon Men's Final against Novak Djokovic, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, it is entirely reasonable that a frustrated Kyrgios pleaded with the chair umpire to quiet the detractor.
"She distracted me during the Wimbledon Final … why is she still here?" asked the 27-year-old Australian to the umpire. Kyrgios -- no stranger to controversies, including many wayward interactions with fans -- then pointed to the woman who "looks like she had 700 drinks," and asked for her removal from the stadium.
While Kyrgios lost the battle on the court that day, the off-court drama has only begun to brew. On Tuesday, Brett Wilson, LLP, released a statement on behalf of Anna Palus, that the disorderly patron was bringing a defamation suit against the tennis star for his actions which led to her removal.
"During the course of the final, Nick Kyrgios made a reckless and entirely baseless allegation against me … to, and read by, millions around the world, causing me and my family very substantial damage and distress," said Palus in the statement.
Defamation Cases in the U.K.
Although the barrier to prevailing in a defamation lawsuit is historically easier in the U.K. than in the U.S. -- because of the U.S. reluctance to infringe on rights to free speech -- a U.K. Supreme Court case in 2019 raised this burden considerably. In Lachaux v. Independent Print Ltd, the court raised the "Defamation Act 2013 ("Defamation Act") threshold by requiring the plaintiff to show "serious harm" to their reputation.
In addition to the heightened burden, the Defamation Act provides that defendants can defend themselves if they can show that "the imputation conveyed by the statement complained of is substantially true" or that "an honest person could have held the opinion based on any fact which existed at the time the statement complained of was published."
The Likely Case for Kyrgios
When compiling the events of the Wimbledon Final, it seems very unlikely that Palus will prevail in her case against Kyrgios. In addition to the tennis star's in-match complaint, Kyrgios doubled down in his post-final press conference that the woman "was speaking [to him] between first and second serves." Kyrgios continued, even adding that he can tell when someone is too drunk based on his own experiences, quipping that "[he has] been on a couple of nights out in [his] life and [he knew] she had too many."
Moments later, the reporter informed Kyrgios that Palus argued that she only had two drinks and was rooting for Kyrgios in the match -- to which Kyrgios responded that it doesn't matter who she rooted for.
The lawsuit seems unlikely to progress any further as Kyrgios' comment will almost interpretively be treated as an honest opinion, if not the truth. In Kyrgios’ comments -- both during and after the match -- he merely stated that Palus was disruptive and appeared drunk. By Palus defending that she only had a few drinks, the court is almost certain to dismiss the case on the defense of honest opinion and possibly even that the comments were substantially true. Either way, Kyrgios will be more than likely to finally put his disappointing day at Wimbledon behind him as he tries to build off his success by conquering his first Grand Slam title in next week's U.S. Open in New York.