French Open fans branded as ’embarrassing’, ‘feral’, ‘disrespectful’
Branded “embarrassing”, “disrespectful” and even “feral”, French Open fans are under fire for the kind of boisterous behavior usually associated with the diehard ultras of nearby football giants Paris Saint-Germain.
Basking in temperatures which have nudged 30 degrees most days and with beer-sellers roving conveniently throughout the grounds, notoriously impatient locals have made their voices heard.
On the first day at Roland Garros, Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk was booed for refusing to shake hands with Belarusian opponent Aryna Sabalenka in protest over the ongoing war in her country.
“I want to see people react to it in 10 years when the war is over. I think they will not feel really nice about what they did,” said Kostyuk, a vociferous and articulate critic of the ongoing presence of Russian and Belarusian players on tour.
“People should be honestly embarrassed.”
Sabalenka initially thought the boos from the showpiece Court Philippe Chatrier were targeted at her and performed an exaggerated bow in response.
On Court Suzanne Lenglen, America’s Taylor Fritz knocked out Arthur Rinderknech, the last remaining French player in the singles tournament after 27 had already fallen.
It was only day five and only the second round.
It was all too much for a proud tennis nation on the 40th anniversary of being able to hail their last home men’s champion in Yannick Noah and 23 years since Mary Pierce claimed the women’s title.
Fritz had been irritated by the partisan night-time crowd’s desperate attempts to push Rinderknech over the line. At one stage, fans even sang the French national anthem.
When he wrapped up victory, 25-year-old Fritz placed his finger to his lips to shush his tormentors before theatrically blowing kisses.
The jeers continued as he attempted to carry out the traditional on-court TV interview.
“The crowd was just so great that I had to let it fire me up. They cheered so well for me, I wanted to make sure I won. Thanks guys,” the American said sarcastically.
Former champion Mats Wilander believes the crowd’s behavior, which pushes the limits of fairplay, can be counter-productive.
“I don’t think they necessarily mean to boo players, but they’re very engaged and enthusiastic this year,” the Swede told Eurosport.
“I think they’re a bit more involved here than if you play a Brit at Wimbledon or an American at the US Open, or an Aussie in Australia.”
Australian doubles player Arina Rodionova asked on Twitter: “Is it me or French crowd is especially feral this year? Normally there is at least a little bit of logic behind the booing… this year they just woke up and chose violence!”
Alcohol appears more easily accessible this year at Roland Garros.
As well as the mobile vendors selling glasses of beer for 10 euros ($10.70), the tournament has for the first time installed a beer station.
Novak Djokovic, who divides opinion at Roland Garros as well as pretty much every other tennis venue, was the target when he took a medical timeout in his grueling third-round win over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
The 36-year-old Djokovic gave spectators a sarcastic round of applause and a thumbs-up. In the third set, he launched a ball skywards in frustration which again brought boos.
‘Love to boo’
Two-time champion Djokovic mocked fans by mimicking their boos and nodding his head in weary acceptance.
“I think the majority of the people come to enjoy tennis or support one or the other player. But there are people who love to boo every single thing you do,” said Djokovic.
“That’s something that I find disrespectful and I frankly don’t understand that. When somebody is disrespectful he or she deserves to have an answer to that.”
Daria Kasatkina was booed on Sunday following her loss to Elina Svitolina. In common with all Ukrainian players, Svitolina does not shake hands with Russian or Belarusian opponents.
Instead, Kasatkina, a rare Russian voice to have criticized the war, gave Svitolina a friendly thumbs-up, a gesture sportingly acknowledged by Svitolina.
“Leaving Paris with a very bitter feeling,” tweeted Kasatkina. “I was booed for just being respectful on my opponent’s position not to shake hands.”
Me and Elina showed respect to each other after a tough match but leaving the court like that was the worse part of yesterday. Be better, love each other. Don’t spread hate. Try to make this world better💜 I will love RG no matter what, always and forever. See u next year🇫🇷
— Daria Kasatkina (@DKasatkina) June 5, 2023
However, not all players have fallen out with the home support.
“Obviously there’s a limit but they’re not afraid to express themselves. I think this makes the atmosphere a lot of fun for me,” said 2022 runner-up Coco Gauff.