Official who expelled Djokovic from US Open is suspended over ‘abuse of power’ claims
Soeren Friemel was reportedly banned for 12 months amid abuse of power claims
The highest-ranking umpire in tennis, who also ruled on world number one Novak Djokovic’s expulsion from the US Open in 2020, is serving a 12-month suspension according to reports.
Soeren Friemel has been absent from tournaments since the run-in to last year’s edition of Wimbledon, which Djokovic won, for “personal reasons.”
But as reported by The Telegraph, the German was hit with a 12-month ban for unethical conduct and abuse of power.
The British newspaper says it learned that Friemel, in his early 50s, entered into voluntary suspension on June 19 last year following serious allegations from a younger male umpire regarding his conduct.
This triggered a five-month investigation, and the 12-month suspension was handed down in December before being reconfirmed by a panel at the turn of the week following an unsuccessful appeal from Friemel.
“The complaint was that Soeren made inappropriate comments and invitations to an individual,” confirmed a spokesperson from the International Tennis Federation (ITF), where Friemel has been employed as its head of officiating since 2014.
“The issue was the situation of power imbalance, which led the investigating officer and the panel to find a breach of the code.”
The panel found Friemel breaking three clauses of the Joint Certification Programme Code of Conduct with Article 13 stating that officials “shall not engage in unfair, unprofessional, criminal or unethical conduct” and Article 14 stressing: “Officials shall not abuse his/her position of authority or control, and shall not compromise the psychological, physical or emotional wellbeing of other Officials, players or tournament personnel.”
Four different instances of breaking the rules were brought to the attention of the governing bodies in tennis in May 2021 and allegedly occurred between 2011 and 2015 while all involving the same young male umpire.
Probed on whether the ruling will affect Friemel’s ITF position, the spokesperson replied that he “remains under suspension and we are reviewing our course of action”.
Despite being suspended, Friemel reportedly turned up at Flushing Meadows for the US Open’s qualifying week in August last year and was described as “hanging out in the referee’s office as if nothing was going on.”
Friemel then left before the first main-draw matches, and it was around this time that the Washington Post published an article stating he “needed to leave for personal reasons.”
These four days at the US Open will not affect the date of Friemel’s return, according to the panel, with his suspension backdated to June 19 and set to end at midnight on June 18 this year.
This means that Friemel could effectively work in his role at Wimbledon in the summer, but as the SW19 tournament chooses its own officials, it is understood that referee Gerry Armstrong, chief umpire Adrian Wilson and tournament director Jamie Baker would like to have people installed that have worked at other tournaments recently therefore potentially ruling Friemel out.
As a high-ranking official, Friemel is influential in deciding which umpires receive promotions and appointments with their hierarchy working on a badge system divided into gold, silver and bronze categories.
To tennis fans, Friemel is perhaps most famous for deciding on Djokovic’s expulsion from the US Open after he accidentally hit a loose ball at the throat of line judge Laura Clark.
Friemel spent a considerable amount of time talking to the Serb before Djokovic shook hands with his opponent Pablo Carreno Busta, who was awarded the victory in the round of 16 tie, and left the court.