Spoilsports of the Century


Predating John McEnroe by a few decades, Earl Cochell remains the only netman ever barred for life by the United States Tennis Association. In his defense, Cochell played in an era when arguing calls was considered bad form— not to say he wasn’t part lunatic.

With a hot serve to match his temper, Cochell climbed to seventh in the U.S. rankings before the 1951 Nationals, his last tournament. The 29-year-old was enjoying a close fourth-round match with Gardner Mulloy, until a line call set him off. As the Forest Hills crowd jeered his tirade, he shook his racquet and yelled for them to shut up. The noise increased, prompting Cochell to try to scale the umpire’s roost to
commandeer the mike. “Let me talk to those son-of-a-bitches,” he pleaded with chair ump Ellsworth Davenport, who pushed him back down. Through a cascade of boos, Cochell served out the third set underhanded.

During the then customary intermission, Davenport sought out Cochell and urged him to cool down. Cochell’s response: “Go shit in your hat.”

Mulloy won the match without further incident. Two days later, Cochell was suspended indefinitely and summarily dropped from the rankings for what the Official USTA Yearbook rather stodgily termed “unbelievably unfortunate behavior.” He never returned.