Over-45 set anything but a bastion of solemnity

Updated: May 31, 2005, 6:05 PM ET
Associated Press

PARIS – Putting Ilie Nastase, John McEnroe, Yannick Noah and Jose-Luis Clerc on the court together guarantees some fun.

Noah and McEnroe, kindred free spirits, were teammates in the over-45 category Tuesday at the French Open.

For the first set, they took things seriously. Then came the clowning.

Clerc smacked a ball way off the court, while Noah sat in the umpire's chair and ordered the umpire to play with McEnroe. When Noah finally climbed down, he sprinted around the court, chasing ballboys and ballgirls.

Unhappy with a line call, Clerc grabbed the umpire playfully by the throat.

As McEnroe prepared to serve, Nastase coughed loudly while Clerc cleared his throat.

McEnroe complained, so Clerc slung his racket at him. McEnroe picked it up and tossed it to a spectator wearing a business suit.

McEnroe and Noah won, 6-3, 6-2.

"It's a lot of fun with Yannick. We're going all the way," McEnroe said.

Noah returned the compliment.

"It's a pleasure to have him as a partner. It would be a lot harder otherwise," the 1983 French Open champion said. "He's still got a great touch."

Noah kidded 58-year-old Nastase, the winner at Roland Garros in 1973.

"Hey, grandfather, you're still playing well," he said.

Nastase, who rolled back the years with a couple of superb lobs, felt Clerc let him down. Grabbing a courtside microphone, he denounced his teammate.

"It's not a pleasure to play with him. His eyesight's so bad," Nastase joked.

Bedtime story
Maria Sharapova is rich and famous but still a kid at heart.

The Wimbledon champion said she needs a comforting bedtime story before turning the lights off at night.

"I'm a huge fan of kids' books," Sharapova said, after losing to Justine Henin-Hardenne in the French Open quarterfinals. "They always make you smile and make you laugh. They always make you think there's no negative things in life."

Sharapova, 18, said her favorite books are the Pippi Longstocking series, by Astrid Ericsson Lindgren.

"When I go to bed, I love to read those books," she said. "Then I have good dreams. I don't have bad dreams."

No pressure, Murray
Britain's Andrew Murray is happy to stay in the background for now.

The 18-year-old U.S. Open junior champion knows that as soon as fellow Brits Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski retire, the spotlight at home will turn fully on him.

"When Greg and Tim have finished, there'll be lots of expectation on me," Murray said.

Though Henman has reached six Grand Slam semifinals, and Rusedski lost the U.S. Open final in 1997, no British player has won a major since Virginia Wade clinched Wimbledon in 1977.

Henman is 30, Rusedski is 31. Neither is expected to be playing many more years.

"We'll have to see what happens in a couple of years," Murray said. "It's good to play juniors. I don't feel any pressure because I'm still very young."

Top-ranked in the French Open juniors, Murray won his third round match Tuesday, beating Italian Gianluca Naso 6-2, 6-2.

Shirtless protest
Whether it's booing umpires, declarations of love, political statements or castigating their own players, fans at the French Open rarely are silent.

"We love you Mary," one fan shouted as Mary Pierce was preparing to serve.

"You're rubbish Grosjean," another said the previous day, when Sebastien Grosjean was serving at breakpoint against Rafael Nadal.

With Pierce serving for a place in the semifinals at 5-0 in the second set against top-ranked Lindsay Davenport, a fan charged onto the court, and peeled off his T-shirt. Scribbled on his chest in big letters was a message to French president Jacques Chirac, who reshuffled his cabinet Tuesday after a humiliating referendum defeat on the European constitution he supported. He named his loyalist, Dominique de Villepin, as prime minister.

"Chirac-Villepin, Resign!" the fan's chest read.

Once the protester was led away and fans stopped cheering, Pierce prepared to serve again and silence fell.

Not for long.

"Give him his T-shirt back!" a fan yelled.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press