Sport Tennis Unruly Australian Open fans ‘cross the line’: Roger Rasheed
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Unruly Australian Open fans ‘cross the line’: Roger Rasheed

australian open ronaldo
Tennis expert Roger Rasheed says spectators can "have as much fun" as they like, but they need to stay respectful. Photo: TND/Getty
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This year’s Australian Open has been marred by rowdy fans yelling abuse at foreign players and chanting for their favourites – and one respected former coach says they’ve sometimes crossed the line.

Play has been halted in some matches to allow security to either deal with or remove some boisterous fans – and there’s even been an arrest.

Roger Rasheed, a former player and coach, and now commentator, says some of the parochial Melbourne Park crowd has clearly gone too far.

“There have been some times where the crowd have been doing some things in-between to put players off between first and second serve. Nobody wants that,” he said.

Rasheed – a previous coach of former and current top-name players, including Lleyton Hewitt – said umpires had to remain in control to stop the partisan fan behaviour becoming “highly disrespectful to the opposition”.

“The reality is, you can cross the line. You can have as much fun as you like, but there can be a line that you do cross,” he said.

Overseas players have borne the brunt of much of the raucous behaviour – from the bizarre repeated chants of “siuu” that many have mistaken for boos, to expletives aimed at beaten stars.

“Siuu” was coined by soccer megastar Cristiano Ronaldo. He adapted it from the Spanish word for yes (“si”), and his fans call it out whenever he scores a goal.

Fans have repeatedly yelled it out during the Open – and Rasheed said he understood why it got under some players’ skin.

“Do I like it? No, I don’t. I’m not a fan of it in the tennis environment,” he said.

“Some people feel like it sounds like a boo and so, whether it is or it isn’t, still it’s an interpretation by players.”

The trouble began in the early rounds, as Australians came out in force to support local hopefuls Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios in the men’s singles.

Second-seed Daniil Medvedev, who was on the receiving end of a particularly bruising crowd, was one of the first to hit back – lashing some fans as having “low IQ”. He also confirmed the nationality of his opposition played a role in the raucous behaviour.

“I’ll put it this way. It’s easier to play a guy from the Netherlands than a guy from Australia, in Australia,” he said, after downing Kyrgios 7-6 6-4 4-6 6-2 earlier in the tournament.

Kokkinakis and Kyrgios might be gone from the singles draw now, but they’ve been a surprise success story together in the doubles.

They have continued to draw mammoth crowds wherever they go, including at Thursday afternoon’s semi-final, which was transferred to Rod Laver Arena to allow more fans to enjoy the show and the match.

The so-called “special Ks” are making the most of the crowd attention, playing to the cheers and jeers and gesturing for more volume.

Kyrgios has even mimicked Ronaldo’s ‘siu’ celebration.

Following their electric win against sixth seeds Tim Pütz and Michael Venus, Kokkinakis added fuel to the fan fire in an expletive-laden post-match interview.

“The rowdier, the better,” he said. “Sink p— and come here.”

Opposition players have been less than impressed. Earlier this week, New Zealand player Michael Venus unloaded on the “special Ks” after losing a tense three-set battle in front of a parochial crowd.

Venus blasted Kyrgios as immature and an “absolute knob”.

Kyrgios is – as ever – unabashed. He has continued to advocate for the crowd’s enthusiasm, arguing the sport must embrace it or face a slow death.

“I can understand it’s a gentleman’s game, but it’s about time that people embraced some sort of different energy in this sport otherwise it will die out. It’s just that simple,” he said.

But Rasheed is less enthused – blaming an “influencer culture” and even COVID lockdown-induced cabin fever for some of the unseemly scenes at Melbourne Park this week and last.

“We’re in an influencer world … with social media, it’s just caught on here,” he said.

The younger fans had “added a little bit of flavour”, but there was still a limit, Rasheed said.

novak djokovic australian open
February 2021: World No.1 Novak Djokovic plays Milos Raonic, with not a spectator to be seen.

Last year’s Australian Open was played largely without crowds, due to lockdowns and virus restrictions in Melbourne – and simply “didn’t have the thrills of having a live audience”, according to Rasheed.

“The crowds bring enormous value to the product.”

But now this year has witnessed a shift to a younger demographic keen to let loose after two years of being cooped up inside.

This year’s surging Omicron wave across Australia has led to what has been labelled “shadow lockdowns” – with many fans choosing to stay home as virus cases climb. Crowds have also been capped at Melbourne Park, with a lift only this week to 65 per cent of capacity as infections in Victoria plateaued.

Rasheed said all that had caused a shift in the ages of those in the stands.

“It looks like we’ve got a different generation of of audience this year … It’s kept the elderly at home … and I think we’re seeing that in the arenas with the audience and their enthusiasm for the matches,” he said.

Other international stars are also unhappy with the wild Melbourne crowds.

There was a particular lowlight on Tuesday night, when a spectator was arrested after he was ejected from Rod Laver Arena.

It was on that night that seventh-seed Matteo Berrettini made history as the first Italian man to reach the Australian Open semi-finals, after triumphing over tour veteran Gael Monfils in a five-set epic.

But the momentous occasion was overshadowed by the mouthy crowd.

With Berrettini poised to clinch the decisive set, play was halted for more than a minute for security to deal with some of the worst offenders. As the Italian eventually attempted to line up his serve, chair umpire James Keothavong had clearly had enough.

“If you don’t want to watch, please leave,” he called out, drawing applause – and more jeering – from the crowd.

The heckling didn’t end there. During Berrettini’s post-match interview, there were further yells – including some that sounded remarkably like “f–k you”.

A visibly shocked Berrettini maintained his composure.

“[The arena is] full of people I like – some of them are not really tennis fans, I think … But it is what it is. You cannot control everybody,” he said.

Victoria Police have since confirmed a 37-year-old man was arrested shortly after, with an investigation now underway into an alleged assault of staff at the Open.

Medvedev has also come in for personal fire. His decision to call out the ongoing nonsense went down, initially at least, like a lead balloon.

“When you get booed on first and second serve, it’s not easy,” he said, only prompting another round of Ronaldo’s favourite cheer and more jeers from the crowd.

It certainly seemed an invitation for more crowd chaos. Luckily, Medvedev seems to have made amends.

In a hilarious post-match interview, after his 6-4 6-4 6-2 victory over Botic Van De Zandschulp, Medvedev compared his connection with the crowd to a romantic relationship.

“I think every good relationship must have its ups and downs,” he said.

“I think there is some sort of a relationship going on.”

Medvedev better hope so. He next faces the Melbourne Park crowd in his semi-final against Stefanos Tsitsipas – who always draws an animated crowd – on Friday.