Paper planes flying over the courts, screams during points, insults springing from nowhere, French players booed at home, stands plunged into darkness... Since 1986, Paris Bercy hosts the last big tennis tournament of the year and the courts of the BNP Paribas Masters sometimes look like circus games. The magic of a place where, at any time, history may be turned on its head and with an atmosphere not found in any other tournament. The proof in ten easy steps…
1 / A second round showpiece
2nd round, 1987. Yannick Noah defeats Mansour Bahrami 7/6 6/4
It wasn’t an exhibition game, but actually a second round match that the two showmen Yannick Noah and Mansour Bahrami were playing. And yet... The moustached Iranian man, now known around the world for his fantastical exhibitions, became known to the general public after this tasty game, where only the enjoyment of the public was at stake. Better than at the circus: we would see him serve an underhand backhand before catching Noah with a passing winner.
2/ Leconte booed by thousands of spectators
1st round, 1988. John McEnroe defeats Henri Leconte 7/5 6/1
"I would remind some people that it's only a tennis match, thank you." By only the third point of the match, the chair umpire Bruno Rebeuh had to act as a policeman. At the end of 1988, a somewhat difficult year for Henri Leconte in terms of communication (including an ill-judged speech after his final at Roland Garros, his reluctance to go to the Seoul Olympics etc...), the French player was booed and insulted by the Parisian audience. In the stands, it was forbidden to support Riton. Any "Go Henry!" was soon swept away by a "Shut up!". Atmosphere, and then some…
The starting point of the quarrel between Henri Leconte and the French public:
3 / An irritating cough
Semi-finals 1989. Boris Becker defeats John McEnroe 7/6 3/6 6/3
McEnroe can't stand it anymore. The American can no longer put up with the mania of the recent Wimbledon and the U.S. Open champion: to cough in decisive games. "Before the game, I decided that I would also cough when he will cough. Curiously, he always coughed on break points." In the middle of the game, a dialogue between these two irascibles started, "John, stop fucking around, I caught a cold!” "It's been four years since you've caught a cold!”. The stuff of legend.
Extracts from the game:
4 / Two rascals in the night
2nd round, 1991. Goran Ivanisevic defeats John McEnroe 6/4 6/4
McEnroe, the old thief on his way out, 32, and Ivanisevic, the hot-blooded newbie, 21, made a big hit together. Tennis? There wasn’t much of it that evening. The two men spent two sets – hand-in-hand - booing the referees before a gaping audience. Insults, glares, and even a "shootout" Ivanisevic pretended to shoot the referees with his racket handle... At the very end the match, when McEnroe had just been fined a penalty point, Goran Ivanisevic let him make an ace to repair the damage; a subtle signal of tenderness in the Parisian night.
5 / Santoro beaten by ... a singer
2nd round, 1991. Yannick Noah defeats Fabrice Santoro 7/5 6/3
October 1991. Yannick Noah was then ranked higher in the charts with his first hit Saga Africa than in the ATP rankings. He was captain of France in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, preparing to play the final against the United States, and he had no longer any ambition as a tennis player. Semi-retired, he only signed on at Paris Bercy for the fun. The draw gave him in the first round a rising star of French tennis who was just dreaming of being in the final. Petrified by the electric atmosphere of the hall, Santoro lost his bearings... and the match: "All of Paris Bercy was behind Yannick, which was normal, at the end of the day. And then I took a tsunami in the face." According to his autobiography, Santoro would be seized with vomiting a few days later... after hearing about his non-selection.
The full match here:
6 / The Croatian flood
Finale 1993. Goran Ivanisevic defeats Andrei Medvedev 6/4 6/2 7/6
27 aces and 32 winning services. In 1993, Goran Ivanisevic had to face the boos of the crowd due to speeding. The public wanted entertainment, not a serving clinic. "What they wanted was to see a match in five sets,” Ivanisevic said at the end of the match. “But I have no interest in playing five sets. They’ll just have to watch the doubles final!”
7 / The finger of Pioline
2nd round, 1996. Yevgeny Kafelnikov defeats Cedric Pioline 6/4 3/6 6/4
Wimbledon has its strawberries and cream, the U.S. Open its hotdogs, and Paris Bercy its rowdy audience who like to make noise even during a point. That's the way it is. In 1996, the three-time winner of the event, Boris Becker, lost it. After a first-round defeat to Carlos Moya, he compared Paris Bercy to a zoo and said things he might not have meant to: "Almost every year, when I leave this tournament, I’m almost thinking of checking into a hospital." Yet, it’s Cédric Pioline who, on the same evening and in front of the same crowd (a handful, to be precise), who was in most danger of being hospitalised. Following defeat to Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the Frenchman left the hall at a brisk pace, giving the finger to the public as he walked. "When I see things like what I've seen tonight, I'm not proud to be French" he said after the game.
8 / Safin in fire and blood
Final, 2000. Marat Safin defeats Mark Philippoussis 3/6 7/6 6/4 3/6 7/6
Red on the centre court during the final between these two giants, and this wasn't makeup! Marat Safin gave so much that he split open his own brow with his racquet handle while making a diving volley. Dr. Montalvan came to give him stitches on the court. And Safin finished the match with a bandage.
The best moments of the final here:
9 / Tsonga, the good old days
Quarterfinals, 2008. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeats Andy Roddick 5/7 6/4 7/6
On the road to his most brilliant victory (he won that week which is so far the best title of his career), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga made the Bercy tournament go back in time after taking down Andy Roddick in 2:39h of cowboy tennis. In the midst of this epic of punch and counter-punch, a ten-minute delay at 5-5 in the third set generated shouts, boos, tension and confusion, just as back in the day. The reason? A confusion regarding the number of "challenges" left to the American.
10 / The nicest day
Semi-final 2010. Monfils defeats Roger Federer 7/6 6/7 7/6
For its 25th edition, the BNP Paribas Masters provided two dreamy semi-finals. After the victory of Robin Söderling against Michael Llodra by 7/6 in the third set, Monfils dominated the master, Roger Federer, after facing match point five times. Punches, mental toughness, inventiveness; Monfils made a demonstration of all his qualities, and all in a festive atmosphere, which likely helped him to shine.
The full match here:
By Julien Pichené