The roar that greeted Alize Cornet’s second-round victory against Jelena Ostapenko at the French Open on Thursday was so deafening that the Latvian former Roland Garros champion literally had to cover her ears after being overwhelmed by the support her French opponent received on court Philippe Chatrier.
The Roland Garros crowd is known to be fickle, corporate seats are often empty at lunchtime, but when a French player needs support, spectators can turn the usually quiet tennis courts into a wild arena and the claycourt Grand Slam provides an atmosphere unmatched at other majors.
“Poor opponent. It was difficult for her,” Cornet said of Ostapenko.
“When you see all these people here to support me, I had shivers in my body, and almost tears in my eyes of emotion. So it’s true when people start supporting you it’s like an arena, and sound level is very high.”
And when the crowd pick on a player, it can become exceptionally unsettling, as Martina Hingis notoriously experienced in the 1999 final against Steffi Graf.
Booed and jeered on by the fans after disputing a line call while 6-4 2-0 up, she lost her composure and the match before being booed again after the match point.
Australian Alex De Minaur, who lost to France’s Hugo Gaston in an epic five-setter in the first round, believes the French public crossed the red line.
“I think there is a difference between a great atmosphere and supporting your fellow countrymen, which is completely fine and it’s great,” he said.
“But there is a line that, when I’m getting told things by people in the crowd, making eye contact with me after I hit a double fault, I think there is a certain line that needs to be kind of looked at.”
The French obviously do not see it this way.
“At 1:00 a.m., 1:30 a.m., you only have gems left in the audience and just have the true people. It was really an incredible atmosphere,” said French veteran Gilles Simon after beating Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta, who was also booed in the late night opening round on Tuesday.
“When you win one game, two games, you feel they are fired up and it gives you a bit of energy, a bit of energy here, there, a bit of tension for him, and he feels that if he misses, he’s going to be shouted at, and it’s not pleasant for him. That’s life, and that’s the advantage when we play at home.”
Some players, however, remain untouchable – or almost untouchable.
Roger Federer was one of them and, to a lesser extent, 13-time champion Rafael Nadal was never victim of any abuse since his debut in 2005.
“I think the crowd was very nice with me too, no? I don’t think, I, I really didn’t feel the crowd against me at all. I think it was a 50/50 and it was supporting a good tennis,” the Spaniard said after a second-round win against France’s Corentin Moutet.
“No, I always enjoy a good support here in Paris, I think the people here knows how special is this place for me and how important and how much respect I always had for Roland Garros and I think they appreciate all the things that I did in this event, so I feel a lot of love from the people here.”