Ah, the sounds of tennis. The pop of a well-timed forehand. The hiss of a new can of balls. Or, if you were attending the French Open over the past week, the jeers of a hostile crowd.
On Monday, Russian No1 Daria Kasatkina became the latest player to call out the French fans for their boorish behaviour.
“Leaving Paris with a very bitter feeling,” said Kasatkina in a social-media post. “Yesterday I was booed for just being respectful on my opponent’s position not to shake hands … Be better, love each other. Don’t spread hate.”
In voicing her frustration, Kasatkina joined a growing list of players. Last week, two-time champion Novak Djokovic complained of “individuals … who love to boo every single thing you do”, while Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk said that “People should be honestly embarrassed.”
American No1 Taylor Fritz hasn’t commented publicly, but his blood was clearly up when he eliminated the final French singles player on Thursday night, amid a deafening hullaballoo. As he approached the net, Fritz put his finger to his lips before waving a “Come on then!” gesture towards the crowd.
So how did Roland Garros – this chic enclave of 34 acres, populated by linen-clad staff who could have stepped off a superyacht – transform itself into a seething pit of hate?
Tempting as it is to pontificate about the national psyche, the simplest answer is usually the correct one. On this principle, two factors spring to mind. One, it’s very hot. Two, a lot of the punters are sozzled. Beer has never been so readily available at this event. Where once you had to queue up at the bars, there are now self-service taps on the concourses (just provide a cup and tap your card) as well as booze-filled backpacks being carried around the seats by tournament salespeople.
Even when sober, the French have long been a lively bunch. They don’t see tennis as a delicate museum piece – as Wimbledon punters tend to – but as a living part of their culture.
Every French national will have a tennis club in his or her home town, and these fans arrive in the 16th arrondissement with strong views.
On the eve of this event, I wrote that the Roland Garros faithful are notoriously unruly. Even so, no-one was expecting the sort of brouhaha that we have seen over the past eight days.
The whole atmosphere has been delirious in every way. The tournament has also witnessed spontaneous eruptions of joy – such as French No65 Lucas Pouille leading the whole stadium in a rendition of La Marseillaise after his first-round win.
When the mood turns feral, the first hoots are often prompted by a line-call dispute. Sometimes, a simple show of frustration is all it takes – as when Djokovic watched a passing shot fly past on Sunday and held out his arms in frustration.
Then you have the political tensions. Ukrainian players have refused to shake hands with Russians all season, even if they warm to the individual in question, because it would be disloyal to their embattled compatriots.
Unfortunately, the French Open fans seem unable to grasp this principle. After each of these matches, they have chosen a villain to boo, with that choice depending less on nationality than on who looks to have abandoned the handshake first.
It was Kostyuk who got the treatment on the first day, even if a confused Aryna Sabalenka – her Belarussian opponent – took the shouts personally enough to give a sarcastic bow in response. Then it was Kasatkina’s turn on Sunday, after she had been eliminated by Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina.
The sad irony is that Kasatkina has criticised Putin’s war more than any other Russian player, calling it a “full-blown nightmare” in September. After the match, Svitolina commended Kasatkina’s bravery, adding that “not many players” had followed her lead.
So don’t be fooled by the architecture, the couture and the cuisine. Today, Paris might be celebrated as the capital of global sophistication. But go back a couple of centuries, and it was home to the tumbrels and the mob.