Madonna King: Why crowd problem at tennis has gone too far

Novak Djokovic was displeased with some in the Rod Laver Arena crowd on Wednesday night.

Novak Djokovic was displeased with some in the Rod Laver Arena crowd on Wednesday night. Photo: Getty

C’mon Australia! Surely we can do better than the loutish behaviour we’re seeing courtside at the tennis this week?

This is tennis, not a game of rugby league or a stoush involving a couple of AFL players. Or a sledging match at the cricket.

And yet we have yobbos yelling and screaming and meowing at Russian tennis star Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, from a bar set up to enhance the fan’s experience!

“It was super loud, like in the restaurant basically, people talking and eating and drinking. I don’t know if they even watched the match,” Pavlyuchenkova told a UK media outlet.

She admitted thinking during her second-round loss to Spanish player Paula Badosa: “What was the idea behind a big courtside bar?”

And it’s a very good point.

So is this from Pavlyuchenkova: “Tennis is a special sport in a way. It’s not like baseball, or other sports where you can eat and walk around. It is completely different. It’s very quiet in a way. So yeah, that was really uncomfortable.”

Badosa agreed, saying she found it tough to concentrate.

French player Arthur Rinderknech also criticised the bar, which has a capacity to hold 400 fans.

“Some stupid – I won’t even say the country – guys that were drunk were shouting at me every time I was missing my first serve, and I don’t think that’s really correct.’’

It’s not.

Novak Djokovic, usually unflappable and a crowd favourite, admits he found his first-round win difficult with the level of noise from the stands.

According to several reports, he asked the umpire to tell fans to “shut the f… up’’ during play.

And then, in the second round, he was forced to challenge a heckler, demanding he come down to the court and repeat comments the world No.1 will not repeat.

This is in the middle of a match.

“It upsets me,’’ Djokovic later admitted. “I’m frustrated. I don’t want to be experiencing that, but I have to accept it as it is.”

He was more conciliatory than he should have been, saying he knew the fan had “paid his ticket”, had a right to attend the match and could “say what he wants to say and behave how he wants to behave’’.

But does he? Isn’t this on Tennis Australia, which has allowed this behaviour to creep into a game that we were able to boast had escaped it?

Over time Tennis Australia had allowed, or encouraged, wilder cheering (and with it, the boos that follow).

More recently, a big loud two-storey bar section at Court 6 was aimed, according to Australian Open boss Craig Tiley, at elevating the “experience for our fans on all the courts’’.

And the recent rule change, which allows spectators to move into their seats from outside the arena between games and not only when players are changing ends, has also added to this year’s change of tone.

This is tennis, where we feel able to watch it while sipping Pimm’s if it’s being played at Wimbledon, or Honey Deuce if you have seat at the US Open. But in Australia, and downtown Melbourne it appears, it’s beers, bad manners and brutish behaviour.

And that fan behaviour runs counter to what we expect of the players – unlike football and many other games.

This is the game that has always celebrated, on the court, the grace of Roger Federer and the commitment of Rafael Nadal, the domination of Pete Sampras, the mental rigour of the Williams’ sisters, the longevity of stars – and partners – Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi and dare I say it, the humour of Novak Djokovic. And the good sportsmanship of almost all of them.

At home, despite a few exceptions – did someone mention Nick Kyrgios? – tennis has produced role models like Ash Barty, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Pat Rafter and John Millman. Their views garner respect because of how they behaved on the court.

Pat Cash, now a grandfather, made history when he climbed the stands, just a few metres away from Princess Diana, after his 1987 Wimbledon victory. Considered one of tennis’ wild boys, he screamed “we f…ing did it’’.

That made headlines then, as his call to rein in the behaviour at the Australian Open is making headlines now.

“We should have more respect for the international players that come over here,’’ Cash told the ABC.

“We’ve got to also accept that if it goes too far, there’s a chance that these players will say, ‘I’m not going to come to Australia anymore. I go there and I get abused, what’s the point of that?’’

A good point indeed.

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