The French Open isn’t even one day old and we’ve already had our first international incident. A kid tried to take a selfie with Roger Federer after his first-round win against Alejandro Falla, and Feddy Bear – a traditionalist if there ever was one – was not amused:
“I’m not happy about it, not for one second am I happy about it….All of a sudden, he was next to me. I didn’t know who he was. He tried to take a picture and nobody’s reacting, and I realize it’s just some guy out of the crowd….It happened yesterday (Saturday) in practice, too. It was just a kid but then three or four kids came….And today on center court where you would think this is a place where nobody can come on, he just wanders on and nothing happens….
“Normally, I only speak on behalf of myself, but in this situation I think I can speak on behalf of all the players, because (the court) is where you do your job. It’s where you feel safe so clearly I’m not happy about it, but nothing happened so I’m relieved but it wasn’t a very nice situation to be in.”
Fed said that while he was appreciative of the apology he received from French Open officials, who nonetheless insisted there was nothing wrong with their security procedures, he expects them in effect to walk the walk.
As with much of life, there are two ways of looking at this. It was just a kid, the crowd goes through a metal detector and Feddy should just buck up. On the other hand, there have been other incidents at Roland-Garros – the guy who tried to force Feddy to wear a hat in the 2009 final against Robin Soderling, the only time Fed won the French Open; the protestor in the Rafael Nadal-David Ferrer final in 2013. (Then there was the time in another tournament when some guy ran onto the court, told Rafa he loved him and kissed him, but that’s another story.)
The incident that is really on everyone’s mind when they hear of such occurrences, however, is the one that took place at a German tournament in 1993 in which Monica Seles was stabbed in the back of the neck by a deranged Steffi Graf fan as she played her rival. Seles was never the same as a player.
That moment was the inspiration for a scene in my debut novel “Water Music” in which a crazed fan slashes embattled Iraqi-American tennis star Alí Iskandar. Alí, who sees the incident as the crystallization and culmination of America’s ambivalence and even hatred toward himself as an American champion of Middle Eastern ancestry, is shocked and furious, and uses that anger to win the match.
But he also wins the crowd to him not only by his courage but by his compassion toward the slasher he helps subdue and whom he recognizes as a young man who is horribly lost.
Back at the French, someone like Novak Djokovic would’ve probably posed with the kid, took out his own cell for another selfie and laughed it off.
But I think Fed, pompous though he can be, is right here. Center court is his workplace.
And, more to the point, you just never know.