There’s a time and a place to cup your hands around your mouth and unleash a good boo. The Prime Minister at the football? A great Aussie tradition. But booing visiting tennis players, and cheering their double faults? It’s starting to get embarrassing.
Tennis crowd etiquette is a difficult thing. Professional players expect home crowds to be partisan, and if you’re Nick Kyrgios or Ash Barty, you’d be spewing if they weren’t making some noise.
No one likes a nark, either. Kyrgios is right when he says the energy of a rowdy arena lifts the game and the sport needs to embrace it, not suffocate it.
But there are always boundaries, and clearly the behaviour of some fans is irking players at this year’s Australian Open. World No.2 Daniil Medvedev, who beat Kyrgios on four sets on Thursday night on centre court, said the jeers during his service games were disappointing.
“It was not everybody who was doing it, but those who were doing it probably have a low IQ,” he told Eurosport.
Britain’s Liam Broady found the experience of playing Kyrgios “very difficult”; while the atmosphere was “incredible”, he said he’d never been booed and sledged from the stands before.
The crowd reacts during Nick Kyrgios’ match against Daniil Medvedev on Thursday night.Credit:Getty Images
While Kyrgios is great at whipping up his audience – and they’ve now come to expect it – this is not just a Kyrgios phenomenon. By the fifth set of Australian Alexei Popyrin’s first-round match against Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech earlier in the week, all pretence of crowd control had been well and truly abandoned.
Most of it was fun, like the young guy standing up on a raised platform and leading the stands in a supportive chant after every point Popyrin won. But then there was the other young dude who yelled out “f— you” while Rinderknech was serving.
A young Aussie playing a night five-setter on a packed outside court is always going to generate a bit of boisterousness. Unlike the main arenas, the outdoor courts – and John Cain Arena where Kyrgios played Broady – are accessible on a ground pass, drawing a younger and often rowdier audience.
The Frenchman seemed to take it all in his stride. “I have never played on a court like this,” he said afterwards. “They just told me that this is the court where they put all Australians and that’s crazy.”
Britain’s Liam Broady said he found it difficult to deal with the rowdy home crowd while playing Nick Kyrgios.Credit:AP
It wasn’t Rinderknech’s first rodeo with a partisan Australian crowd; in the final of the Adelaide International a few days earlier, facing hometown hero Thanasi Kokkinakis, the umpire had to ask the crowd to please stop cheering the Frenchman’s faults.
Here in Melbourne, Kyrgios fans have introduced a new and slightly confusing element; the “siuuu” sound, a celebratory roar adopted from soccer legend Cristiano Ronaldo which sounds very much like booing. It’s a bit of fun, mostly, though undoubtedly, it also gives people cover to actually boo.
Is behaviour any worse than usual? It’s hard to tell. New York crowds get pretty rowdy at the US Open – but you’d probably pick the atmosphere at Flushing Meadows or Melbourne Park over the quiet obedience of Wimbledon any day of the week.
After the hardships of the past two years, everyone needs to blow off a bit of steam at the moment. You can feel it in the widespread lack of adherence to mask wearing once people are in their seats.
But the litmus test of what’s acceptable has to be how the visiting players feel about the situation, and clearly some people’s behaviour is starting to butt up against some kind of line. Even Kyrgios was visibly frustrated on Thursday night when some people called out during play.
“I told the umpire, I said ‘you should tell the crowd not to scream out’,” he said after the match.
Unlike most other sports, tennis has strict etiquette for spectators during the action; you have to shut up from the moment a player starts serving until the point is over. Some players are more sensitive to this than others: Medvedev, for example, rarely waits for silence.
It's the umpire's job to settle the crowd between points but beyond that, people are free to whoop, holler and, yes, even heckle.
Audience participation is a wonderful and important part of sport. It would be nice if it came with a bit of tact and class – but unlike a mask, you can’t make that mandatory.
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