‘They can be quite harsh’: French Open fans draw heat at Roland Garros

"It's better to have the crowd on your side than against you," French star admits

'They can be quite harsh': French Open fans draw heat at Roland Garros
Latvia's Jelena Ostapenko felt the full force of a partisan Roland Garros crowd in her match against French player Alize Cornet. (Photo: Thomas Samson / AFP)

Henri Leconte claimed he was so badly abused after he lost the 1988 Roland Garros final that he was even booed when he popped out to buy a baguette – and he was French.

After two pandemic-hit years, fans have returned en masse to the tournament, even if many non-French players secretly wish they had stayed at home.

Without a men’s champion since 1983 and no women’s title winner since 2000, home fans are desperate to push their stars over the line.

Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 champion, felt the full impact of 15,000 fans inside Court Philippe Chatrier on Thursday night when she was defeated by Frenchwoman Alize Cornet.

The Latvian covered her ears with her hands to block out the cacophony.

“Poor opponent, it was difficult for her. That’s the advantage when you’re a French player,” said Cornet after claiming a second round 6-0, 1-6, 6-3 win.

“I didn’t expect so many people. They were so fired up. From the first till the last point they didn’t stop supporting me, they carried me. In the third it made the difference because my opponent was a bit annoyed and it gave me a lot of energy.”

However, Cornet, an 18-year veteran of the tournament, warned that if standards slip, then the crowd will quickly voice their displeasure.

“They can be quite harsh,” she admitted. “It’s better to have the crowd on your side than against you. They boo easily. They upset players, and when the crowd is not on your side, it can be very tough.”

‘Making eye contact’
Australia’s Alex de Minaur believes some French fans crossed the line in his five-set defeat to Hugo Gaston on Tuesday on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

The noise and singing of the 11,000-strong crowd, which eventually stretched to thousands of fans belting out ‘Happy Birthday’ to Gaston’s girlfriend, riled the normally unflappable Australian.

“There is a difference between a great atmosphere and supporting your fellow countrymen,” said the 23-year-old Australian.

“But there is a line when I’m getting told things by people in the crowd, making eye contact with me after I hit a double fault.”

Gaston is still in the tournament and will face 19-year-old Holger Rune on Saturday. “I used the crowd. They were fantastic.”

Ostapenko is not the only former champion to have felt the passion of the Paris crowd. Garbine Muguruza’s title defence in 2017 was ended by Kristina Mladenovic, again on a raucous Court Suzanne Lenglen.

The trauma was so severe that the Spaniard was reduced to tears at her post-match news conference.

Baguette boos
“The crowd was a little bit tough for me. I understand. I just think that they should be a little bit more respectful for the game because we had to stop. The chair umpire had to always calm the crowd down,” said Muguruza.

Aware that she would have many future visits to the French capital to negotiate, she added: “I’m not here to create enemies.”

Leconte, now 58, can sympathise. He was part of France’s Davis Cup winning team in 1991 and was a Roland Garros doubles champion in 1984. He even went as high as five in the world rankings.

But losing in straight sets to Mats Wilander in the 1988 final was a failure fans could not forgive.

He remains the last Frenchman to reach the championship match.

“It was the lowest point of my life,” he toldĀ in 2020, the memory still raw even 32 years later.

“After I lost that final, I couldn’t even go outside to buy a baguette. They just booing me all the time. I had to go outside of France.”

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Mbappe accuses French federation boss of ignoring racist abuse

France international Kylian Mbappe on Sunday accused the president of the French Football Federation (FFF) of ignoring racist abuse after his penalty miss at Euro 2020.

Mbappe accuses French federation boss of ignoring racist abuse

The Paris Saint-Germain star’s decisive spot-kick against Switzerland was saved in the last-16 shootout, resulting in the world champions exiting the tournament.

The 23-year-old was vilified on social media by furious fans, and even considered quitting the national team as a result.

In an interview with a Sunday newspaper, FFF president Noel Le Graet spoke of the lack of support Mbappe had felt after the Euro elimination, but failed to mention the racist absue he had received, to the annoyance of the France striker.

Le Graet said “he (Mbappe) considered that the federation had not defended him after his missed penalty and the criticism on social media networks”.

“We saw each other for five minutes in my office,” continued Le Graet, adding the striker “no longer wanted to play in the French team – which he obviously did not think”.

On Sunday, Mbappe responded on Twitter, regretting that Le Graet had not taken into account the “racism” of which had been a victim.

“Yes finally I explained to him (Le Graet) above all that it was in relation to racism, and NOT to the penalty,” Mbappe said.

“But he considered that there had been no racism.”

Le Graet later told French radio there was “no problem” between himself and Mbappe.

“I agree with him. I understood everything and there is no problem with Kylian. I have always had a deep attachment to him.”

Le Graet had spoken last year about how the striker had “taken a knock” after the penalty miss.

“He came to the federation. He had taken a bit of a knock. The elimination had affected him, especially the articles and the comments,” Le Graet told AFP.

“My role was to show him affection, to tell him that the federation was counting on him to bounce back. It’s not a defeat that can change a career.”

As for the racist insults, “maybe it affected him”, continued Le Graet, “but it was settled very, very quickly. The proof: he is competitive at a very, very high level.”

FIFA plan to protect players

Le Graet had already come under fire last September after declaring that racism in football “does not exist or hardly exists”.

A few months before the Paris prosecutor’s office announced it was investigating racist messages towards certain French international players after the Euros.

On Saturday, FIFA published a report pointing to the increase in the number of insults against footballers on social media.

According to this study, 38 percent of them were racist in nature.

FIFA said with the World Cup in Qatar just five months away, they will work with players union FIFPRO to implement a plan on how to protect players from abuse on social media.

This will involve scanning recognised hate speech terms published to identified social media accounts, and once detected, prevent that comment from being seen by the recipient and their followers.

The exchange between Le Graet and Mbappe follows a period of disagreement over the image rights of players in the France team.

Mbappe and his advisors would like to review and modernise the convention that governs these rights.

Saturday, at the end of the FFF General Assembly, Le Graet insisted there would be “no change. Until the World Cup at least”.