WIMBLEDON, England (AP) – This isn’t what comes to mind when you think about tennis’s supposedly genteel roots, and the seemingly right vibe on dates-to-the-1800s Wimbledona country club sport practiced in a place that is officially the All England Lawn Tennis Club: a player, Nick Kyrgioscap off a first round victory Tuesday by spitting at a spectator he said was harassing him.
“I’ve dealt with hate and negativity for a long time, so I don’t feel I owed that person anything. He literally came to the game to literally just support no one, really. It was more to stir up and be disrespectful. That’s fine,” Kyrgios said after beating Briton Paul Jubb 3-6, 6-1, 7-5, 6-7 (3), 7-5.
During the match, the stands at 1,980 seats on Court No. 3 – attracting long lines of people hoping to eventually be let in, probably due to the popularity of the anything-can-do Kyrgios, a 27-year-old from Australia, and the involvement of a local player – Kyrgios unsuccessfully asked for remove the fan for swearing and other verbal abuse.
This comes less than three weeks after the organizers of a tournament in Stuttgart, Germany, investigated when Kyrgios said he heard racist insults from the crowd during a competition, raising questions about when unruly behavior is too unruly or whether more should or even be done to protect athletes from inappropriate comments coming from the stands.
“I grew up in Australia, so I definitely know what racism is. I feel like it’s a struggle, a constant struggle, getting out of that place and dealing with it. … I don’t think it has anything to do with that. I just think spectators generally think there’s just no more queue. They can just say something and they film it and then they laugh about it,” Kyrgios said. “It’s like that could hurt someone’s feelings. You know what I mean?”
Tennis players have long been dealing with online abuse, especially from gamblers who are upset about the outcome of a particular match. Negative interactions between athletes and the people who pay to watch them are getting more attention in real life too.
At a tournament in Indian Wells, California, in March, Naomi Osaka wept after a spectator yelled, “Osaka, you suck!”
The four-time Grand Slam champion explained that the episode brought up thoughts about the moment when Serena and Venus Williams were booed at that event in 2001 after Venus pulled out due to injury, before the sisters had to play each other. Their father, Richard, said racist comments were sent to him; his daughters stayed away from that tournament for years.
“Personally I’ve never experienced any kind of intervention on the pitch (and) I’ve been very lucky because I know other players have experienced it. Certainly online, I have a lot of experience, but that’s different,” said Coco Gauff, an 18-year-old Floridian who came second at the French Open this month and won her Wimbledon match on Tuesday. “I definitely think there’s a line you shouldn’t cross.”
Gauff called what she called the “obvious” examples of racial or sexual comments.
“That’s definitely way past the line,” she said. “There are things that you do have to deal with as an athlete. It’s just part of the sport. It’s not very common in tennis, especially in tennis. It’s not in tennis culture, let alone at Wimbledon. I think the line is definitely a lot closer to crossing than I’d say than other sports because that’s just the culture of tennis. For me, it’s personal attacks – that’s really crossing the line.”
An All England Club spokesman said no fans have been removed from Kyrgios’ match, but there could be an assessment of what happened, including what he said at his press conference.
As for the kinds of things he hears from people during his matches, Kyrgios concluded: “I’m just starting to think it’s normal when it really isn’t.”
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