Crowd etiquette at Grand Slams: Does it need to change?

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Johanna Konta’s win over Simona Halep to secure her place in the Wimbledon semi-finals for the first time was arguably the best achievement of her career, as well as being the best achievement for the women’s side of British tennis in a long time. That said, the manner in which Halep surrendered match point, following a pre-emptive scream from an over-eager fan member, highlighted a significant–if overlooked–issue within the sport: crowd etiquette.

High-profile close matches, like the Halep-Konta one, inevitably get the crowd involved, with tensions and emotions running high. In many ways, the fact that the crowd was so involved with the match, which lasted two hours and thirty-eight minutes, was a compliment to both players’ performances and the fact that they gave the crowd a good contest. Also, both Konta and Halep are used to playing in the Fed Cup, where partisan crowds are often much louder and more encroaching on proceedings on-court than would otherwise be the case at Grand Slams. Surely someone screaming pre-emptively at Wimbledon cannot be as bad as say, the opposition’s team captain hurling abuse at players during the change of ends, as was the case when Konta and Halep last met on the clay courts in Bucharest for a Fed Cup meeting?

On the other hand, it is clear that tennis players need more protection from crowd interference during play than is the case at the moment. The ITF’s rules regarding what it calls “player hindrance,” vaguely say that “if a player is hindered in playing the point by… something outside the player’s control” then the point should be replayed (http://www.itftennis.com/officiating/rulebooks/rules-of-tennis.aspx). This was the case in the 2009 U.S. Open Final, where Juan Martin Del Potro claimed to have been put off by a crowd member who dropped their cup at a key moment during his encounter with Roger Federer. In this case, the two players discussed the situation and the outcome was resolved, albeit to Federer’s frustration. In the Halep-Konta case, neither the players, nor the umpire were quite so forthcoming.

The lack of protection for tennis players from the crowd risks undermining the integrity of the sport, and it gives the crowd too much power over proceedings on-court. The rules regarding crowd involvement need to be enforced to greater effect, and officials need to play a more active role in ensuring that the crowd at Grand Slams remains respectful of both players, even though one of the players might be more popular than the other.

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