A French player at the French Open gets only a warning when his ball strikes a fan

PARIS (AP) — A French player at the French Open was allowed to continue his first-round match without being penalized after hitting a ball angrily and accidentally striking a spectator in the stands at one of the event's smaller courts Sunday.

Terence Atmane, a 22-year-old with a career-best ranking of 120th, smacked a ball over the wall into the seats behind the opposite baseline at 492-capacity Court 12 after losing a point in the fourth set against Sebastian Ofner of Austria.

Play was delayed for nearly 15 minutes while the chair umpire and a tournament referee spoke to the fan who was hit and tried to decide what, if any, action to take against Atmane. Eventually, he was given a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct but no further penalty.

“For me, it was a bit surprising, because if you do something like that on a small court, you have to be punished, you know?" Ofner said after coming all the way back from a two-set deficit to pull out a 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2, 7-5 victory. “Because it’s not like you hit the ball normally. It was full power. The ball was so fast. Straight in the crowd. There were people disqualified for less.”

At last year’s French Open, for example, Miyu Kato and her doubles partner were forced to forfeit a match when Kato accidentally hit a ball girl in the neck with a ball after a point at Court 14. At the same tournament, Mirra Andreeva swatted a ball into the Court Suzanne Lenglen stands after dropping a point during a loss against Coco Gauff; like Ofner, Andreeva escaped with a warning from the chair umpire.

Ofner, who reached the fourth round at Roland Garros in 2023, was ahead in the fourth set at 4-1 when Atmane sailed a backhand long, then launched a left-handed forehand that went toward the fans. Ofner immediately shook his head and exhaled.

He said later he saw the ball hit the woman in the leg.

Ofner was asked what explanation he was given by the tournament official who went to the court to look into what happened.

“The referee said, ‘Oh, yeah, I was talking with the lady. The lady said at the beginning it was hurting but now it’s fine, and everything was OK. She saw the ball coming. So it’s not enough for disqualification.' I think if he would see how it was, maybe he would decide different,” Ofner said. “A little bit more unlucky and it’s going directly in the face. And then something can happen (like) a broken nose or whatever.”

A French tennis federation spokesperson said there would be no comment before Monday.


AP tennis:

Howard Fendrich, The Associated Press