If an iguana has just been through its hour of fame in Miami, after seeing Tommy Haas taking a selfie with it in the middle of a match, animals haven’t always been welcome on the courts. The proof with the death of a bird, in 2002, which was shot by Michael Llodra. Let’s go back to this episode.
« Last week, a kid asked me again : ‘Was it you who shot the bird ? People always mention that episode. More often than Roger Federer’s first title which he won against me. That anecdote, which is totally unexpected and unusual in sports, has gone far beyond the world of tennis.You just know that it’s a once in a lifetime experience. » Julien Boutter isn’t afraid of saying it : what happened during the 2002 Australian Open doubles semi-final will remain exceptional. And the odds of seeing this happening once again remain very slim.
Before describing the action in itself, we must recall the context. The semi-final, which was 100% French, saw the pair Fabrice Santoro-Michael Llodra facing the duo Arnaud Clément-Boutter. The match was held during the nigh, with swallows being attracted towards the lights and regularly eaten by gourmet martins. But when one of them flew onto the court only a few centimeters from the ground, Llodra, on his side, was hitting the ball. That’s when the drama occurred : the ball stroke the animal very hard while it was flying. Under Clément and Boutter’s glance, as they were both running up to the net. « At that moment, you’re completely disorientated for a couple of seconds, recalls the latter. Llodra shoots, we were getting ready to run…and all of a sudden, the game stops. You wonder : ‘What’s happening, exactly ?’ And very quickly, you start to understand. You see the ball changing its trajectory and the bird going the other way. »
A prayer for the deceased
The poor bird crashed down on the ground, unconscious. « We understood straight away that he was dead », says Boutter, who put his hand in front of his mouth and ran straight towards the body after the fatal shot. After a quick observational confirmation, the player kneeled down in front of the deceased, dropped his racket, said a prayer and crossed himself under the crowd’s applause, before jokingly asking the staff for a stretcher. Without forgetting to call Llodra an « assassin. » « I was only joking of course, I didn’t mean it ! We were actually used to playing together at that time. »
In any case, this whole ceremony wasn’t only meant to make the crowd laugh. And even far from it. In truth, Boutter is know for being an animal lover and didn’t find it funny at all. « A huge part of my education came from rurality. The sensitivity of the fauna and the flora is something important in my family, says the current director of the Moselle Open. It might sound stupid, but when I was a kid, we used to care for animals in my house. I can’t even recall the number of times that we welcomed some injured animals to try and heal them. Setting up bird tables in the backyard during the winter was a habit. »
From then on, can the bird’s death explain the Boutter-Clément pair’s defeat (3-6, 6-3, 10-12) ? According to Boutter, it could be possible, even if he says he got over it after that point they had to replay. « In general, just like after any other intervention, the incident benefits the players who are losing. In this match, we were leading with Arnaud, and the bird episode was a sort of a split moment. We ended up losing the match. We might have psychologically let the match go, consciously or unconsciously. » Another reason to describe this moment as « a sad one to live. » Not enough to cry in front of the replays which we see every year on television, but enough to be hoping not to live another moment like this one.