Because tennis is a lonely sport, players also have the right to a little company. And even if the world of the little yellow ball and the one of animals don't always mix well. The proof in 10 stories, with flying ants, tiger snake and donkeys braying.
1/ Mister Guillemot’s goat
A player arriving in Roland Garros with a goat on a leash: no, the Roaring Twenties were perhaps not completely over in 1933 for Maxime Guillemot, French player of lower-ranking, when he had this crazy idea. Raymond Rodel, a fellow visibly as eccentric as him even tried to push the beast on the Centre court during a doubles match of Jean Borotra. In vain.
2/ Noah attacked by ants
Flying ants attacking Jericho. What could be the title of a beautiful B movie actually took place in New York in late August 1988. When? During an exhibition match between Yannick Noah and Jim Courier, interrupted a few minutes by a swarming. Without consultation, everybody, players, spectators, umpires, ball boys, ran to find shelter as one man.
3/ « Can someone silence this animal»
Bucolic. Or how to characterize the 1909 edition of the France championship, the ancestor of the French Open. That year, for the only time in its history, it didn’t take place in Paris, but in the magnificent club of the Villa Primerose in Bordeaux. Amidst the applause and balls impacts then mingle the braying of the donkeys of a nearby park... The eventual winner, Max Decugis, almost lost it: "Can someone silence this animal or I'm going to leave the court!"
5/ «I couldn’t stand these birds anymore»
Dubai tournament 2013, 6 pm, the hour of the evening prayer. As in the movie The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock, sparrows started to invade the trees and had a shindig for nearly an hour. Enough to drive Dmitry Tursunov crazy. The Russian started to have murder cravings during his match against Michael Llodra. Armed with several (tennis) balls, the Russian started to target the trees bordering the court number 1. "I told the umpire that I couldn't stand these birds anymore. I couldn’t even hear myself breathe. At one point, I even wanted to cut out the umpire!" Penalty point.
6/ A tiger snake under the grass
Final of the 2001 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, France defeated Australia 3-2 in Melbourne. After the event, the agents removed the sod specifically set down for the matches. And made a charming discovery: a tiger snake, a venomous snake (obviously), had spent the week zigzagging under the shoes of the finalists. And it wasn’t Fabrice Santoro.
7/ A squirrel on the grass
Wimbledon 1949, second round. The French Robert Abdessalam was leading 5-3 in the fifth set against the Dutchman Hans Van Swol. Moment chosen by a squirrel for its little daily walk on the sacrosanct London grass. It took almost three minutes to dislodge it. Van Swol, who was burnt out at this point, took the opportunity to breathe and came back in the game. That he won 13/11.
8/ « The dog was barking incessantly»
Ilie Nastase, a prankster? Hardly. During his career, the Romanian brought a black cat on the court to destabilize the superstitious Italian Adriano Panatta; hid a mouse in Arthur Ashe's locker... and tied the dog of Jean-Paul Belmondo on the court. During a doubles match at Roland Garros, Nastase, carried away by his enthusiasm, jumped into the box that Jean-Paul Belmondo had been renting at courtside of the centre court for years. Nastase then grabbed the famous Yorkshire of the Nouvelle Vague actor and… Tied it to the chair of the umpire! "We played two or three points. The dog was jumping all over the place and constantly barking. Everyone was laughing,” remembers 'Nasty' in his autobiography. “And Bebel didn’t say anything."
9/ « Arnaud had been speaking to the butterflies for three days»
Semi-final of the doubles event at the 2002 Australian Open. Santoro/Llodra vs. Boutter/Clement. Arnaud Clement who was serving, gently attacked the game in the first set when, after three rallies, the ball hit by Llodra suddenly changed course, just before crossing the net. A surprise effect? Not really. "When I saw Julien and Arnaud looking at a little grey thing on the court, I understood that they had just hit a bird," remembers Clement. In front of the remains of the bird, Boutter bowed down, mourning, in front of a hilarious public. Before getting back on his feet and calling Llodra a murderer. Boutter had forebodings for this match: "Arnaud had been speaking to the butterflies for three days."
10/ « Rarely have I seen something so beautiful»
Fan of fast surfaces, Pete Sampras has never really felt comfortable at Roland Garros. In 1995, he was even almost eliminated in the first round by the Austrian raptor Gilbert Schaller. A defeat to forget. Or to remember for this moment of grace intervened in the final set, when a dove suspended time, and the match, by landing on the net. Quietly. Pete Sampras seemed touched after the match: "I have rarely seen anything so beautiful. Too bad that it happened during a match where I played so badly."
By Victor Le Grand and Julien Pichené