Rafael Nadal’s uncle Toni calls the Parisian crowds “stupid”. The Spaniard and four time defending champion felt the first glitch on his record in 2009. However, it was not the first, or last, time he’d feel negative vibes from the crowd in Paris. During his fourth-round loss to Robin Soderling, Nadal was not on the end of any notable whistling, rather deathly silence. Hs uncle, Toni, told a Spanish radio station: “There is only one set of supporters that is worse than the French and that is the Parisians. They say it themselves and it’s true, the Parisian crowd is pretty stupid. I think the French don’t like it when a Spaniard wins. Wanting someone to lose is a slightly conceited way of amusing yourself. They show the stupidity of people who think themselves superior.”
Maria Sharapova at Roland Garros. Twice at Roland Garros, the crowds have turned on Sharapova, because of an apparent dislike for her grunting and what they regard as her Americanised ways. Sharapova became so frustrated in her defeat to Dinara Safina in 2009, she berated the crowd on the Suzanne Lenglen Court by shouting: “Allez… Up your f—— ass.” When asked about the crowd’s behaviour, Sharapova said: “They paid for a ticket to watch me so they must appreciate me on some level, right?”
Rafael Nadal’s first appearance at Roland Garros. Nadal has experienced his fair share of enmity from the Parisian crowds. Travel back to Rafa’s debut at Roland Garros in 2005, and his fourth-round match against Frenchman Sebastian Grosjean and your ears will bleed when you hear the reaction of the crowd following a (correct) line call from the umpire that went against Grosjean. The boos, hisses and whistles were so intense, it took seven minutes for play to resume. “The crowd didn’t behave the way they should behave when watching a game of tennis,” Nadal, who was 18, later said. The Majorcan went on to win the match and the tournament.
2003 French Open Semi-final, Justine Henin vs Serena Williams. French TV coverage showed cartoon drawings of Serena throughout the tournament which both had racist undertones and questioned her gender. In her semi-final match, a couple of line calls went in Serena’s favour, and she had the 15,000-strong crowd on her back too. The American broke down in tears during the press conference: “From the first point, the crowd was psycho. I think I did a pretty good job to carry on.”
Michelle Larcher de Brito breaks down. Larcher de Brito makes Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka’s grunts sound like squeaks from a church mouse. The 2009 Roland Garros crowd didn’t take too kindly to the Portuguese teen’s screams, and they were not going to let her leave the tournament without letting her know their feelings. The fact Larcher de Brito was playing French woman Aravane Rezai didn’t help her cause either.
Andy Murray plays to win. If a player is unfortunate enough to become injured during a match, should the opponent also lower his level to give them a chance? Yes, according to the French crowd present at the 2011 Monte Carlo Masters match between Murray and Gilles Simon. When the Frenchman twisted his ankle, Murray took advantage of this and continually hit drop shots which Simon could not reach due to his restricted movement. Cue a barracking more familiar 400-odd miles north in Paris. “I wasn’t bothered at all, I did what I had to do,” said the British No 1.
Martina Hingis vs Steffi Graf. The crowd turned on Hingis during the 1999 final, against Steffi Graf, after she crossed the net to check a mark on the clay. Graf, who had been three points from defeat, would go on to win the title.
Crowds on Court Suzanne Lenglen hiss about a Nadal match they haven’t even witnessed. The French love an underdog. It looked like it could be the day of the underdog when John Isner took Rafael Nadal to five sets in the first round of the French Open in 2011. But as he so often does, Nadal managed to grind out the win. When the result was flashed on to the screens of the Court Suzanne Lenglen, the news was met with some boos and hisses.
John McEnroe vs Paris. Never has the idiom ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’ been more appropriate. John McEnroe’s infamous tantrums may be been embraced and laughed off by any other crowd, but not at Roland Garros. When McEnroe lost his cool during a second set tie break during the fourth round of his match against Ivan Lendl in 1988, he really did feel the wrath of the crowd, even after requests of ‘silence’ and ‘sil vous plait’ from the umpire. McEnroe went on to lose the tie break and the match in four sets.
Andy Murray in Monte Carlo… Again. Andy Murray faced Nikolay Davydenko in Monte Carlo in 2009. The umpire climbed down from his chair to check a mark, and showed Murray which one it was. Murray misunderstood the umpire and thought he had called the ball ‘in’ causing Murray to, in a state of disbelief, shout at the top of his voice: “No way! That ball was out!” As with any sign of a rebellion from a player, his reaction was met with jeers from the crowd. The ball was out and Murray won the point. Unlike the crowd, Davydenko saw the funny side.