Politics and tennis a volatile mix
The diverse mix of patriotic fans helps to make the Slam Down Under unique, but ethnic tension is becoming a troublesome trend at Melbourne Park.
"But the players on the court, they were very nice, very fair and they showed the people how it should be."
The conflicts have usually involved young Australian-born fans of Balkan descent who have carried over local soccer club rivalries into tennis. Eyewitnesses said the scuffle began when Serbian celebrations began to ruffle nearby Bosnian supporters and escalated into what state police described as a "chair-throwing competition."One woman, an innocent bystander, was hit by a chair but did not suffer serious injury. Two people were charged by police and 30 people, mostly in their late teens or early 20s, were evicted from the site. There was more fighting outside the grounds, but police reported that it was quickly brought under control. In yet another bizarre incident, a streaker was arrested on Court 3 during a doubles match involving the Williams sisters. Friday's clash follows a charged atmosphere on the grounds two days ago, when there was a match between Croatia's Marin Cilic and Serbia's Janko Tipsarevic, and another between Delic and bewildered Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu. After Cilic wrapped up a four-set win over Tipsarevic, Serbian fans made their way over to Delic's match, getting involved in a chanting war with the Bosnian fans. Later, conflict between Serbian and Croatian supporters at a bar led to two people being evicted.
"I always felt like they're coming here for political reasons instead of really supporting players," he said. "We always like to have the crowd on our side if they want you to win and they cheer you on. But if they start singing songs that have nothing to do with tennis ... making the point that Croatia is a country now and stuff like that, which doesn't really make sense."
The 29-year-old veteran has never come across this kind of phenomenon anywhere else on the circuit.
"The Croatians here in Australia are different here than anywhere else," he said. "That's the people here, and it's been like that in the past and it's always going to be like this. I don't think it's going to change.
"It doesn't bother me personally, I would just love them to put their energy supporting players instead of making those kind of statements."The second week of the tournament is likely to bring calm to the grounds, with fewer matches on the outside courts and the bulk of the action taking place in the stadiums, where tickets are more expensive and security is tighter. But the Serbs, Croats, Bosnians and the rest of tennis' United Nations will be back on these courts next year, and unless the political temperature can be cooled, the potential for trouble will only continue to rise.
Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.
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2009 AUSTRALIAN OPEN
Women's singles: Serena Williams, United States
Rafael Nadal, Spain
Men's doubles: Bob and Mike Bryan, United States
Women's doubles: Serena and Venus Williams, United States
Mixed doubles: Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi, India
Official scoreboard: Scores
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