Roger Federer knows that if it weren’t for his fans, he’s be nothing, and he’s always gone out of his way for them, but on Sunday at the 2015 French Open, a line was most definitely crossed. A young teen was able to run out on the court after Federer defated Alejandro Falla 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 without any security on his tail. No one tried to stop him as he made it to Federer and took selfies with him while the Swiss Maestro held his composure but this incident obviously shook him up no doubt. And this was quite a long delay before any security came out.
Anybody would be furious at the horrendous default in security, especially in a city where just months ago terrorists killed eleven people in offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo. If this kid had meant to harm Federer it was open season and no one would have been able to stop him until it was too late.
It was the latest in a series of security breaches at Roland Garros through the years, and Federer was quite rightly not amused.
“Obviously, not one second I’m happy about it,” he said, calling for immediate action from the French Open organizers. “Normally I only speak on behalf of myself, but in this situation, I think I can speak on behalf of all the players, that that’s where you do your job. That’s where you want to feel safe. And so clearly I’m not happy about it. But nothing happened. So I’m relieved, but clearly it wasn’t a nice situation to be in.”
Gilbert Ysern, the French Open tournament director, apologized to Federer in the locker room after the match and later attributed the incident to “a lack of judgment” on the part of the security guards rather than a lack of proper security structure.
“What happened today does not show that the risk level is high,” Ysern said. “We’re talking about an error in judgment. The guards are well prepared. If a guy went running on the court with an aggressive attitude, he would not have made it to the player.”
At times on Sunday, Ysern seemed to play down the incident. “Of course, we should not make too big a case of that,” he said. “But it’s embarrassing, of course, for Roland Garros when something like that happens.”
At times he also seemed more concerned about underscoring the importance of the willingness of players from this generation to interact with youth than with focusing on the essential: player security.
But on balance, Ysern made it clear that Sunday’s incident, as innocuous as it turned out, was unacceptable. He said the young fan, who French news outlets reported is 14, had been barred from the remainder of the tournament.
“The court is sacred,” Ysern said. “It’s forbidden at any moment for any reason in any possible context to put so much as a toe on the court. All the spectators should know it.”
Above all, all the security guards should know it. Tennis history should be a constant reminder that such situations can turn out as anything but a joke.
It has been 22 years since Monica Seles, then the No. 1 women’s player in the world and the reigning French Open champion, was stabbed in the back on April 30, 1993, on a changeover in Hamburg, Germany, by a deranged German fan of Seles’s archrival, Steffi Graf.
The psychological damage proved greater than the physical damage, and though Seles did eventually return to the circuit and win the 1996 Australian Open, she was never the same irresistible force after the stabbing.