Linesman Dick Wertheim Killed by Tennis Ball Served by Stefan Edberg While Officiating Match
Read About One of the Most Bizarre Incidents in the History of Sports
On Saturday, September 10, 1983, linesman Dick Wertheim was struck and killed by a tennis ball while he was officiating the junior boys title match between Stefan Edberg and Simon Youl at the U.S. Open.
Wertheim was seated in a folding chair serving as the center service linesman in the match, when Stefan Edberg served an ace that struck Wertheim in the groin with such force it toppled him backward in his chair. Wertheim's head slammed with great force onto the hard court surface at the U.S. Open at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, New York.
The blow to the head from hitting the hard court surface knocked Dick Wertheim unconscious, and caused bleeding inside his brain. Wertheim was carried from the court on a stretcher and rushed to the Flushing Hospital and Medical Center, where he was placed on a respirator.
Dick Wertheim Died Five Days After Being Hit by Tennis Ball
On Thursday, September 15, 1983, Dick Wertheim died from his head injuries, having never regained consciousness. Dick Wertheim is believed to be the only person ever killed by a tennis ball at a tennis match.
Technically, Dick Wertheim did not die from the direct blow of the tennis ball. However, the blow from the tennis ball caused Wertheim to fall backwards where he suffered a fatal head injury.
Not only is this one of the most bizarre incidents in tennis, it's one of the most bizarre incidents to ever occur in a professional sporting match of any kind.
Wertheim Himself was an Avid Tennis Player for Many Years
Dick Wertheim was 60 years old when he died. He lived in Lexington, Massachusetts, and was an avid tennis player himself. Dick Wertheim played for Lexington in a Sunday morning Weekend Tennis League for many years prior to his death, playing against towns in the Route 128 area in Massachusetts, stretching from Wakefield to Lexington.
Dick Wertheim certainly knew his way around a tennis court which makes the incident such a complete fluke. The odds of something like this happening were probably just slightly better than the odds of someone getting struck by lightning.
Dick Wertheim's Family Sued the United States Tennis Association
On September 5, 1984, Dick Wertheim's family filed a $2.25 million dollar lawsuit against the United States Tennis Association (USTA). The lawsuit claimed the association acted with gross negligence and did not provide adequate safety measures for officials working matches at the U.S. Open.
Jury Verdict Overturned on Appeal
A jury found the USTA to be 25% responsible for Dick Wertheim's death. The USTA appealed, and the appeals court reversed the ruling in 1989, saying the plaintiff had failed to show that the USTA acted with gross negligence.
Again, this incident was just a complete fluke. Nothing like this had ever happened in the history of tennis and nothing like it has happened since.
Stefan Edberg Will Always Be Remembered for Hitting Ace that Killed Dick Wertheim
Stefan Edbreg, despite being upset about striking the linesman with an ace, won the match, which completed a Junior Grand Slam for him in 1983. He is the only player to ever win a Junior Grand Slam. Edberg went on to have a great tennis career, winning six Grand Slam singles titles, including two U.S. Opens.
As time has gone by though, Stefan Edberg is starting to be remembered more and more as the tennis player who's serve killed linesman Dick Wertheim at the U.S. Open in 1983. Stefan Edberg did nothing wrong, but his tennis shot still caused the death of linesman Richard Wertheim in what was just a bizarre tennis accident.