Miami crowd crosses line in Wozniacki-Puig match (updated)

MIAMI, Fla. – It was midnight, and the fans who stayed after the lengthy match between  Miami favorite Juan Martin del Potro and Robin Haase were clearly, well, heartily refreshed.

But world No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki says the often-unruly Miami crowd crossed the line during her match against Monica Puig.

Actually, make that a number of lines.

Here’s part of the statement Wozniacki put out Saturday, after she lost to Puig 0-6, 6-4, 6-4.

“During the match last night people in the crowd threatened my family, wished death upon my mom and dad, called me names that I can’t repeat here and told my fiancé’s niece and nephew (who are 10 years old) to sit down and shut the f*ck up. Meanwhile, security and staff did nothing to prevent this and even accepted this to take place.

“I hope the Miami Open chooses to take this seriously because it’s a horrible example to set for the next generation of tennis players and fans.”

According to Wozniacki, her supporters during the match against Puig suffered through the dark side of fan partisanship – including a pair of 10-year-olds. (WTATV screenshot)

Tough crowd at best of times

The Miami crowds are not known for being particularly sporting when a Spanish-speaking player is on court. And the 8 p.m. start time for evening sessions and the resultant late hour for the second matches just exacerbates that.

Puig, born in San Juan, Puerto Rico but raised in Miami, is the perfect storm.

Chair umpire Marija Čičak tried to control the unruly mob, to no avail. And she clearly didn’t hear the worst of it.

Many fans were applauding Wozniacki’s errors, which isn’t sporting but hardly unique to this city.

At one point, Wozniacki complained about the crowd making noise during the point.

“How many times did I tell them already?” said chair umpire Marija Čičak – who is the woman you want out there for this situation, because she is strict.

The crowd booed Wozniacki for even daring to ask the umpire to intervene, then cheered her next error.

But even Cicak gave up eventually.

“I know it’s very exciting, but if you could keep (it) to the end of the point. Thank you,” she said late in the third set. But the tone was resigned, the face discouraged.

Again, not ideal, but not that unusual.

Tennis players get a completely unacceptable level of online threats, bullying and unprintable insults at a matter of course. Most often, they come from the bettors after they lose a match they were favored to win.

But it’s rare that you hear of these things going on in broad daylight (so to speak), in public, where everyone can hear them and see them. People who make death threats and yell at 10-year-olds, as Wozniacki claims occurred, tend to fall on the cowardly side.

And there is not much even tournament security can do in a situation like this – even if they confront a fan accused of such behaviour, it’s a “he said, she said” situation.

Tournament director James Blake put out the following statement.







Meanwhile, Wozniacki hitting partner Venturino Thibault stated on Twitter that incidents indeed were reported during the match. He reiterated that it was a shame the tournament did absolutely nothing.

Thibault later clarified to Tennis.Life via Twitter that the more serious threats made to her supporters were not reported during the match. He was referring to the situations that affected Wozniacki during the match – unpleasant, but not something not seen from time to time on a tennis court. Calling a player unprintable names isn’t harassing children.

Wozniacki isn’t shy about complaining about perceived injustices. And when it comes to rules, she often has a very valid point. But there’s no doubt it all affected her in this match.

Puig, the big-moment player

Conversely, it buoyed Puig, who showed at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro that the thrives on the big stages. If there were more big stages, her ranking would be a lot better than its current No. 82.

From a high of No. 27 18 months ago, Puig is down to No. 82 and probably needed a big “home” moment to get on a roll. But even she wouldn’t have wanted it to be this way.

Wozniacki, who is a part-time Florida resident herself, has nothing against Puig. In fact, the two are friendly and she noted that in her statement. She also wished her luck for the rest of the tournament.

But it seems the Miami fans will not be on the Dane’s Christmas list, even if it’s a tournament where she has consistently done well with three quarterfinals, a semifinal and, a year ago, a finals appearance. She lost to Johanna Konta.

Luckily for Wozniacki, with all the other points she has earned, she’s not in danger of losing her No. 2 spot in the rankings despite failing to defend all those points.

At worst, she would drop to No. 3 – and then, only if Garbiñe Muguruza wins the whole thing.

The question is, will the tournament act upon her plea? It’s a very difficult thing to police. Perhaps having someone who can address the fans in Spanish – sternly, in Cicak-type fashion – and threaten expulsion to those caught in those types of behaviors might help. The trick is catching them, though.

Especially late into a Friday or Saturday night, when the booze is flowing, and the inhibitions are shed just a little more.

(Screenshots from WTATV)

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Goes to the player who reached a significantly higher position in the ATP World Tour Rankings and who demonstrated an increasingly improved level of performance throughout the year.

(Worth noting that Shapovalov is about a lock to win the “Star of Tomorrow” award, given to the youngest player in the top 100).

ATP Most Improved Player

  • Denis Shapovalov (47%, 155 Votes)
  • Alexander Zverev (25%, 84 Votes)
  • Pablo Carreño Busta (10%, 32 Votes)
  • Diego Schwartzman (5%, 17 Votes)
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ATP Comeback Player

  • Kevin Anderson (56%, 288 Votes)
  • Roger Federer (38%, 197 Votes)
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Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award

Goes to the player who, throughout the year, conducted himself at the highest level of professionalism and integrity, who competed with his fellow players with the utmost spirit of fairness and who promoted the game through his off-court activities.

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Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award

  • Juan Martin del Potro (29%, 439 Votes)
  • Kevin Anderson (24%, 355 Votes)
  • David Goffin (17%, 255 Votes)
  • Diego Schwartzman (17%, 252 Votes)
  • Roger Federer (7%, 112 Votes)
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Halep asks Romanian fans to cool it

Rogers Cup No. 2 seed Simona Halep obviously appreciates all the support she gets from the Romanian fans.

Everywhere she goes, there seems to be large, vocal group of supporters.

Even Canadian Bianca Andreescu, whose parents are Romanian, who who made her WTA Tour main-draw debut at the Citi Open last week, got the spillover. She said she couldn’t believe how much Romanian she heard spoken in the crowd during her matches.

But while appreciative, Halep asked the fans to tone it down a bit after her 6-1, 6-0 victory over Barbora Strycova Thursday in Toronto.

“I want to thank them. And I think I can say – is not a bad thing – but I think that they have to be a little bit more fair play with the opponent, because today was a little bit too much in my opinion,” she said.

Embed from Getty Images

(Photos above are from the 2015 Rogers Cup in Toronto).

The match took just under an hour. Strycova, a combustible sort anyway, was visibly bothered by the vocal support.

Even with Marija Čičak in the chair – and who in their right mind would defy the formidable Čičak? – it wasn’t the best situation. 

After the first game of the second set, Čičak had to ask the crowd to be fair to both players. There were very few fans left on the stadium court by that point, so they sounded even louder.

Great Sock towel heist ends well

WIMBLEDON – It doesn’t take much for a video to spread like wildfire – especially if there’s a kid and some mean adults involved.

And so, one teenager immediately became social-media famous this week.

Video of American player Jack Sock’s first round match appeared to show a grown man aggressively fighting for a towel thrown by Sock in the kid’s direction.

The reality is not quite so clear-cut, of course.

Sock didn’t even look up as he threw the towel, and underthrew it if he was aiming at the kid.

So in fact, the kid reached over to where the man and his wife were comfortably ensconced in their front-row seats (in matching shirts and coordinated hats, no less) to get the towel.

Nevertheless, what grown man will tug-of-war so relentlessly to take a souvenir towel away from a kid? 

This man.

Meanwhile, the man’s wife just smirked, and never broke rhythm with the chewing gum.

Social media to the rescue

Sock got wind of it, and reached out on social media.

The 24-year-old American called the fellow an “elderly man”.

That probably hurt more than the towel burns he got in securing possession of the souvenir.

On Wednesday, a representative from Sock’s management agency, IMG, said the young fan had been found and that he was from Ireland.

“He is gone home now but Jack invited him to his matches and said he will send him a towel,” the spokesperson said.

But …. hold the phone.

It turned out the kid from Ireland was scamming. The real kid was an American kid from Philadelphia named Peter Woodville.

His mother Faiézé, who is on Twitter but had barely Tweeted until this week, had it brought to her attention, and responded.

The proof was in the cap. It’s from the boarding school Peter Woodville’s father attended – one of the most exclusive schools in the U.S.

The school, of course, jumped on the opportunity to recognize its alumnus. Even snooty prep schools are on Twitter!

Peter came back the next day – he and his family queued up for five hours to get back onto the grounds – and got his towel. And a photo.

“He was upset. He told me he was shocked more than anything. Because in the states at a lot of these sporting events, if adults catch a ball or something they go out of their way to give it to the youngsters. They don’t keep it for themselves. He was very disappointed and I think he was shocked,” mother Faézé told the British Associated Press.

That’s far from true. Old guys wrestle foul balls from young kids in the stands at baseball games all the time. But it’s always better to remember the good people.

Ready for his closeup

In the meantime, the 14-year-old did what a 14-year-old in this day and age does. He got on Twitter and started fielding media inquiries that pretty much sounded like this: “Hi, I’m a journalist. Can you follow me so I can DM you a few questions about the towel?”

As for the well-hatted couple, you hope they headed home and had some of their other grownup friends give them the what-for.

Certainly no one sitting around them did – Wimbledon fans are far too decorous.

Buss: The fans, from all over, the lifeblood of the BNP Paribas Open

INDIAN WELLS – Saturday at the BNP Paribas Open, 36,361 patrons came through the gates and set an all-time session attendance record for the event.

Curious as to who these throngs were, I spent the better part of the day trying to meet some of them, to find out who exactly is out watching tennis in the desert.

Conversations about the BNP Paribas Open usually center around the stunning facilities, the top-shelf field, the gorgeous Coachella Valley and of course, Oracle founder and billionaire Larry Ellison. But without the fans, this event doesn’t happen. What began 40 years ago as a small pro tournament played at a private club is now an internationally renowned mega-sporting event that is growing in stature year after year. And it’s all fuelled by fan demand.

As I walked the grounds observing clusters of fans, one of the first things I noticed was an immediate need for a translator. From Europe to Asia, to South America and beyond, you’ll hear foreign languages a-plenty around the grounds.

Indian Wells used to be quite provincial. As the tournament grew, the event morphed in to a destination for winter-weary North Americans. Throwing an elite tennis tournament in to the equation just sealed the deal. An international fan base has grown roots at this event and with American tennis exceptionalism in decline at the moment, that’s a trend likely to continue.

I asked a couple from Seattle what finally brought them to Indian Wells after all these years, “Roger Federer. I’ve never seen him play live. I figured I better do it now before its too late,” the gentleman replied.

When I casually mentioned Federer wouldn’t play his first match until Sunday, he said, “Oh, we know. We just want to watch him practice for a couple days. We have to go back Saturday night, so we’ll take whatever we can get !”

All the way from Seattle… to watch Fed practice.

When Federer takes to the practice court, every nook and cranny is jammed. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

West coast tennis fans used to have an array of events to choose from: Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach, La Costa, Carson, San Jose to name a few. Now, the BNP Paribas Open is the one time all year the top men’s players travel west of the Mississippi. (the women also hit Stanford, Calif. in the summer).

In part, that speaks to a larger trend. To host a major event and attract the top stars, it now takes a world class facility. With the cost out on the West coast, and no available slots in the ATP Tour calendar, Indian Wells is it here for some time to come.

As a result, everyone comes: the reunion crowds who meet up here every year, the celebration crowds who mostly hang out at the bars, the parents and children with their giant autographed yellow tennis balls clamoring for the attention of their favorite players.

When Juan Martin del Potro takes the court, the blue and white comes out. (Barry Buss/Tennis.Life)

There also is no shortage of industry people here. And as always, the crowds are divided into the haves and have-nots. The Stadium 1 box seats and suites are a mix of corporate marketing and personal discretionary spending, with the increasingly steep prices giving even some of my well-heeled colleagues pause.

Of course, there is also Fan Zero, Larry Ellison. He’s such a big fan of the game – he bought the tournament. He has a private luxury box within the private luxury seats, so that you don’t forget that.

Above the bourgeoisie is the proletariat, that guy who just loves his tennis. I flagged one down early Saturday stalking the outer courts alone.

He said he was first through the gate and set up shop on the back courts and watch until there were no more matches to watch. “I just love it!” he said.

Tennis brings out the patriotism in every fan. (Barry Buss/Tennis.Life)

In the space next to him lay an enormous backpack bursting at the zipper– what he called his “Indian Wells survival pack”.

He had fluids, hats, a blanket, extra clothing, sunblock, chargers, homemade sandwiches to last all day. “I won’t pull my wallet out once the whole day. It makes me laugh hearing what people spend out here. I park at the hotel and take the free shuttle. They aren’t getting any of my money!” he said.

Walking further through the crowd, you feel how special this event is for those in attendance. So much athletic greatness, one rock star after another practicing and playing beside each other all day long. You can just feel the pride the fans feel for the favorites, but you can feel their pride in their countrymen and women even more.

When Federer is playing, out come the Swiss red and white flags. The Argentines never miss a moment to flash the blue and white when their native son Juan Martin del Potro is doing battle. And last night on center court, Vasek Pospisil had to feel like he almost was playing a Davis Cup tie in his Vancouver hometown, with the amount of maple-leaf love he was getting on Stadium 1. There’s no doubt it was a factor that helped catapult him to a career victory over world No. 1 Andy Murray.