Unlike football, rugby and basketball, tennis is a muted sport during which, the vast majority of the time, the audience is asked to remain silent. But sometimes they refuse and become uncontrollable. Covering bananas skins, thrown coins and sports bets, here are ten completely crazy crowd stories.
1/ Monica Seles stabbed
"Most of the time, when you see someone running towards you, you think, 'Oh that one wants an autograph.' But now we all wonder: 'Oh my God, he maybe has a knife somewhere.'" Like the entire tennis planet, Martina Navratilova is in shock. During her quarter-final in Hamburg in 1993, Monica Seles was stabbed in the back during a change of sides. The perpetrator? Günter Parche, an unemployed factory worker, 38, an obsessive fan of Steffi Graf. Described as "confused and unbalanced", he would be acquitted on charges of attempted murder and sentenced to two years in prison, accompanied by an obligation to undergo psychological treatment. Still, Parche got what he wanted: Graf won Roland Garros a month after the tragedy, and became world number one once again.
2/ Slapped by a supporter
Talkative, proud and rogue, Jeff Tarango belongs to the last generation of eccentric players, causing as much laughter as annoyance. Example: In 1994, the American dared to show his ass to the Japanese public after losing an epic point against Michael Chang. A year later, in the third round of Wimbledon, Jeff continued by telling the audience "Oh, shut up!" after being whistled three times. Penalty point. Infuriated by the decision of the umpire, Tarango then dropped his balls, took his things and left the court. "You are the most corrupt official in the game! Everyone knows it " he said on his way out to Bruno Rebeuh. A few minutes later, he was then slapped by a supporter of the American. "''I try to slap him once, just to tell him that's enough because Jeff cannot do it,'' said the assailant who was none other than... the wife of the player. ''If Jeff slap him, he's out of the tennis tour, so I do it.''
3/ Martina Hingis hazing
Things never really clicked between the Roland Garros crowd and Martina Hingis. Perhaps it was her precocious self-confidence, sometimes bordering on arrogance. "How can I still improve in my game? It almost scares me" she said shamelessly in 1999. That year, during the final at Porte d'Auteuil against Steffi Graf, the Swiss had to pay the price for her pride and suffered the wrath of the Parisian crowd, fully supporting the cause of the German player. In the second set, convinced that one of her shots was good, she went check it out herself. This misconduct, prohibited by the regulation, wasn't really appreciated by the crowd, who started to boo and insult her, but also to applaud each of her faults. Martina mentally cracked and slumped to an inevitable defeat. "Don't worry, you have time" Steffi whispered into the ear of the 19 year-old player, in tears at the awards ceremony. The final cruelty of a lousy afternoon...
4/ Henri Leconte, who needs love
English, Germans, Swedes and even Americans: Henri Leconte has always been adored by foreign audiences during his career. His French supporters, too, used to love his sweet madness, his unique technique and his contagious love for tennis. But when he was not on his usual game, this love could easily turn into hate. For a classic example, look no further than the final he lost to Mats Wilander at Roland Garros in 1988. At the microphone, during the awards ceremony, "Riton" became angry with the boos of the Parisian public: “Well now, I hope that you have understood my game... A difficult game!”
5/ “Worse than the French, the Parisians”
Even at his peak, Rafael Nadal has never been unanimously acclaimed by the crowd at Roland Garros. Too clean, too aggressive or too loud, everything is an excuse to rail against Majorcan. His first participation in 2005 was even a painful hazing. For a mild protest to the referee, the Spaniard was lynched during a fourth round match against Sebastien Grosjean. The boos were so intense that the referee had to stop the match for fully seven minutes. In 2011, the spectators of the Suzanne Lenglen court even booed "El Matador" remotely when the score of his match against Isner on the Philippe Chatrier court was displayed on the scoreboard. To boo a player that you don’t even see play: a concept made in France. Toni Nadal specified: “There’s only kind of supporter worse than the French; it’s the Parisians”
6/ The coins of the Italian audience
In the 1970s, when Adriano Panatta appeared on the Central court of the Foro Italico in Rome, there was an almost jingoistic atmosphere of terror. In the shade of the marble statues built under Mussolini, the Italian spectators put such pressure on the referees and the opponents of their champion that the atmosphere became unbearable. In 1978, the Spaniard Jose Higueras left the court after having bottles of beer hurled at him during one of his service games. Outraged, the referee did the same. "I played against Panatta at the central court of the Foro Italico too,” Bill Scanlon wrote in his book Bad News for McEnroe. “I lost. It seemed the best thing to do at the time." Only one man managed to control his nerves and overcome Adriano in his home arena: Björn Borg. The calmest man in the world, even when the public mistook him for the Trevi Fountain: “The public was throwing coins at me on the court. I took two in the face, which really hurt me. I started running around to collect the coins and I stuffed them in my pocket, which really made me laugh.”
7/ Death threats
If the Paraguayan crowd terrorized players in the 1980s, it was its Brazilian cousin that hypnotized the foreign players during the next decade. In 1996, during a routine Davis Cup by PNB Paribas play-off in Sao Paulo, some spectators tried to dazzle the Austrian players with small mirrors facing the sun. Disqualification. "This was the worst atmosphere I have ever seen,” commented the journalist Herman Fuchs, “I don't know where this could have gone if the match had continued." Same place, a little earlier, in 1987, Thomas Muster and Udo Plamberger didn't even want to finish their doubles match for fear of "getting killed." Until then, no team ever had to leave the court in the middle of a match for security measures. Disqualification.
8/ Fake supporters, real players
1981 U.S. Open, Martina Navratilova against Chris Evert. It was a great game, unfortunately interrupted when the security service had to evacuate two American supporters who were shouting during each Navratilova serve. Real fans? No. The two fanatics were actually gambling addicts who had bet all their savings on a Evert victory. Unfortunately for them, their bet bowed out in three sets. Her “supporters” copped a $250 fine and a day in custody. Fail.
9/ The naked lunch
Unlike football, rugby or even golf, the phenomenon of streaking (an exhibitionist appearing naked in public, usually at a sporting event, note) hasn't really caught on in tennis. A pretty blonde girl, wearing a white apron and not much else, nevertheless tried it at the 1996 Wimbledon final, during the official photo of Richard Krajicek and MaliVai Washington. "She rather annoyed me to be honest. And then she smiled at me..." said the American, exhilarated. Commentating for NBC, John McEnroe inevitably approved this bold approach. "We need a replay from all possible angles" he said on the air. His partner had to remind him that Wimbledon is a "family show." Before Big Mac concluded: "You bet my family will love it!"
10/ Spit, Nazi and invasion of the court
Second round of the 1976 U.S. Open. Game, set and match. After a final winning volley from the racket of Ilie Nastase, photographers, journalists, women, children and supporters started to invade the central court of Forest Hills. The public was dreaming of sharing the joy of the winner except that instead they got to witness a boxing match. Nastase and his opponent, the German Hans-Jürgen Pohmann, decided to come to blows. Why? In a state of extreme tension, heated by a blazing sun, the Romanian didn't appreciate that Pohmann called the physio to the court three times. As a handshake, Nastase then spit in the face of the German and insulted the referee. The audience booed him. "He's not a human being, he's a beast" then said Pohmann, who earned in return, a lovely: "bastard, you're a Nazi" in the locker room. Shouted down, Nastase was finally welcomed as the messiah three years later. The public can be like that, according to Ion Tiriac: “One day, they boo Nastase because he’s nervous on the court. The next day, he does something that only he can, and everyone forgets.”
By Victor le Grand, avec Julien Pichené