- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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PARIS -- Once, when the Minnesota Twins were playing the Seattle Mariners in the Kingdome, a fan climbed over the fence and down the left field line. He wandered slowly and made it all the way to centerfielder Kirby Puckett and asked Puck to sign the bill of his cap. The fan then walked back to the stands, climbed back over the fence and sat down in his seat. And he did it all without a single security guard attempting to stop him.
I was reminded of this Sunday when a fan ran onto Court Philippe Chatrier and tried to get a photo with tennis legend Roger Federer after his straight-sets victory against Alejandro Falla. Federer was not happy about the incident. After all, a couple fans also wandered onto a court where he was practicing Saturday. That doesn't help make a player feel safe.
Perhaps Federer's scariest incident came six years ago, when a fan stormed the court during the French Open, waved a flag and then tried to put a scarf on Federer's head.
"When people jump on the tennis court or the soccer field, it feels like the security must be tougher," Falla said. "Lately, nothing serious has happened to a player or an athlete, but one day something bad can happen. Like what happened to Monica Seles. You never know what the crazy people are going to jump on the court."
These things happen in sports. Protestors briefly interrupted the 2015 Australian Open final between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, and others did so here during the 2013 final between Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer.
Those were political protests but, like Sunday, usually the fan is either drunk or on a dare or just plain stupid. Usually, nothing bad happens much beyond those two fans permanently ruining Hank Aaron's 715th home run video by circling the bases with him. The security guards normally chase down the moron, remove him from the field (players told me in the past that they saw security officers rough up the culprit pretty good) and sometimes arrest them.
That was the case Sunday. The fan did, who did not try to hurt Federer in any way, was quickly escorted from the court.
But on rare occasions, something very bad does happen. Seles was infamously knifed in the back by a fan in 1993. She missed two years recovering and never quite returned to her old form. Two drunk fans attacked first base coach Tom Gamboa at Comiskey Park in 2002, punching him several times before security guards stopped them.
Federer said that something needs to be done quickly: "We need to make sure that it's safe out there and people don't just wander on the court like a free pass."
He's right about that, but the key is how far should security go? There isn't much space between the players and the spectators in tennis, so a drunk/crazed fan can get to the athlete very quickly. But you don't want to ruin the atmosphere for everyone by putting up oats and wire fences.
"Maybe having more security people on the court covering the whole area." Falla said. "I wouldn't put a fence or something up. That's crazy, but you can have more security guards."
That makes good sense. But again, you don't want to overdo it. Earlier in the day, I watched Andrea Petkovic leave her practice court and get swamped by fans requesting selfies with her. Although recovering from injury, she graciously complied, smiling and posing happily with fan after fan.
You don't want to lose that fan experience. But you also need to keep the athletes safe. The key is to react properly enough but not overreact as we too often do these days. Station a few more guards and have them keep their eyes peeled at all times. And maybe add metal scanners at entrances like the NFL and Major League Baseball do to lessen the chances of a weapon being brought inside.
Roland Garros security oddly electronically swipes our credentials when we leave the grounds. Perhaps they can be a little more observant when people are still on the grounds.
The Roger Federer incident reminds us that there's a tricky line between keeping athletes safe and maintaining an enjoyable fan experience.