French Open 'circus' as home favourite escapes disqualification for hitting fan with ball

French Open 'circus' as home favourite escapes disqualification for hitting fan with ball
Terence Atmane argued with the umpire after the incident

British No 5 Liam Broady dubbed late-night scenes on the French Open’s outside courts “a circus”, after home favourite Terence Atmane escaped disqualification despite swatting a ball away with full force and hitting a spectator.

Atmane’s escape was all the more bewildering because this is the same tournament where Japanese doubles player Miyu Kato was controversially disqualified last year, having tamely tapped a ball in the direction of a ball girl who took a light impact on the top of her baseball cap.

This latest incident occurred a little before midnight on Sunday. Despite the late hour, there was still a decent crowd gathered on Court 12 gathered to watch Atmane – the world No120 from Boulogne – as he fought out a deciding set against Austria’s Sebastian Ofner.

Trailing 4-1 in that fifth set, Atmane fired a backhand slightly long, whereupon Ofner automatically swung the ball back over the net as players will often do. Rather than catching it or absorbing its force, Atmane walloped it away in frustration, straight into a woman who was sitting in the stands.

The supervisor - an official who supports the chair umpire from the side of the court - went over to speak with the spectator for 30 seconds or so, but Atmane got away with a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Ofner eventually wrapped up his 3-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2, 7-5 comeback win at four minutes to midnight. “‘For me, it was a bit surprising,” he said afterwards. “If you do something like that on a small court, you have to be punished, you know? Because it’s not like you hit the ball normally. It was full power. The ball was so fast. Straight in the crowd. There were people disqualified for less.

“The referee said, ‘Oh, yeah, I was talking with the lady. The lady said at the beginning it was hurting but now it’s fine, and everything was okay. She saw the ball coming. So it’s not enough for disqualification.’

“I think if he would see how it was, maybe he would decide different. A little bit more unlucky and it’s going directly in the face. And then something can happen, a broken nose or whatever.”

Writing on social media, Broady said “For those wondering… I found the supervising and umpiring in that match ATROCIOUS. Umpire wasn’t even going to give a warning. And supervisor went to ask spectator about it in front of 1000 French fans chanting let him play. What a circus. French in France I guess.”

Former French Open champion Stan Wawrinka then endorsed Broady’s views by appending a facepalm emoji.

The incident certainly suggests a lack of consistency from officials. In 2020, Novak Djokovic was disqualified from the US Open for smacking a loose ball into a line judge’s throat. But at the 2022 Australian Open, Nick Kyrgios won the doubles title after escaping sanction for a similar swat which connected with a young spectator in the front row. Kyrgios sugared the pill somewhat by handing the boy a racket from his bag.

According to the wording of the rulebook: “Players shall not violently, dangerously or with anger hit, kick or throw a tennis ball within the precincts of the tournament site except in the reasonable pursuit of a point during a match … The referee in consultation with the grand slam chief of supervisors may declare a default for a single violation of this code.”