Novak Djokovic’s French Open quarter-final against Matteo Berrettini was delayed by around 22 minutes as thousands of spectators were evacuated from the stadium court due to a coronavirus curfew at 23 hours.
Pandemic restrictions were relaxed to allow 5,000 inside Philippe-Chatrier court on Wednesday rather than the 1,000 for previous games, and the mood was pretty good until the rule was imposed.
“The conditions were weird with the fans here, then the atmosphere was a little different (after),” Djokovic said later. “You have to find a different motivation because the energy of the fans is special.”
Some disappointed fans laughed and even sang “We paid, we will stay” as they refused to leave at 10:45 pm as curfew approached.
Shortly before 10:55 p.m., the two players packed their bags and walked away as fans screamed in frustration. Premier Djokovic was leading 2-1 in sets and leading 3-2 in the fourth when play was interrupted.
Feel the sting
Berrettini waved to the crowd as they chanted her name shortly before the players left. The hard hitting Italian said he felt for them. He also felt that a prick had been taken out of his game.
“I think it’s a shame, it’s something I didn’t like. But it’s bigger than us, it’s not what you can do anything about,” Berrettini said, ninth seed, on the curfew.
The fans really didn’t take it well, though, and they certainly made it known.
“Rip off!” one said, while others blamed broadcaster Amazon or French Tennis Federation president Guy Forget.
Within minutes, the main stadium was almost completely empty, although two angry supporters continued to claim they had the right to stay until security officials finally kicked them out at 11:10 pm.
“It’s unfortunate for the tournament, for the crowd, to have this curfew. But we knew it before the game,” said Djokovic. “The referee walked up to us and said ‘if he gets close to 11:00, we will have to clear the stadium.’ That’s what happened.”
Moments later, both players returned to warm up amid cathedral silence as the sound of the ball hitting the racket replaced the at times hoarse atmosphere.
Djokovic had experienced something similar during the Australian Open in February, when fans had to be kicked from the main exhibition grounds in his victory over Taylor Fritz due to coronavirus restrictions in Melbourne.