Tennis chiefs crack down on hooligan element at French Open matches

By Paul Myers - RFI

Organisers of the French Open tennis tournament on Thursday banned fans from drinking alcohol while watching matches as part of a hastily arranged package of measures to combat loutish behaviour as the world's top players battle to lift one of the circuit's most coveted prizes.

Security agents have been told to identify and remove persistently rowdy fan and match umpires have also been instructed to be less indulgent and impose a disciplined tone for the games.

The move follows complaints from the former top 10 playerDavid Goffin and the world number one Iga Swiatek.

During his first round match on Sunday against the Frenchman Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard, Goffin said he was continually abused by the crowd on Court 14 during a match that lasted nearly four hours.

"This is becoming football," said the 33-year-old Belgian after the five-set victory. "And soon there'll be smoke bombs and hooligans and fighting in the stands."

His comments were initially downplayed. But on Wednesday night, after fending off a match point during a three-hour, three-set struggle with the former world number one Naomi Osaka, a visibly upset Swiatek used her post-match on-court interview with the former player Alex Corretja to plead for fans to control themselves.

“When you scream something during the rally or right before the return, it's really, really hard to be focused,” said the 22-year-old Pole.

“This is serious for us, we are fighting our whole lives to be better and better. Sometimes it's hard to accept that.”

An hour or so away from the white heat of competition, Swiatek told reporters that she hoped her reprimand would not turn the crowds against her.

But less than 18 hours after her objections, French Open tournament director Amélie Mauresmo stepped in and threw the weight of one of the world's most prestigious tennis institutions behind one of the sport's biggest stars.

"We're happy to see there's an atmosphere, emotions and that the spectators are there," said Mauresmo.

"However, we will be uncompromising with respect to the players and the game.

"If there's the slightest behaviour that oversteps the mark, it will be the exit," she added.

Mauresmo, a former world number one and two-time Grand Slam tournament champion, added: "Throwing something at a player, you're out. Expressing yourself during a point is a no-no. We're going to try and limit that as much as possible."

Standards of leniency vary at the tournament. Some umpires keep a lid on the rowdiness while others appear to fear fans intent on enjoying themseves and performing Mexican waves as a player prepares to serve to consolidate a break of serve or even serve for the set.

"The umpires have tighter, even more precise instructions on keeping the audience under control," added Mauresmo. "It's part of the role of the umpire to manage that too."