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Last Updated: Friday, 6 June, 2003, 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK
Animosity and amour in Paris
By Dan Warren

Serena Williams during her French Open semi-final defeat to Justine Henin-Hardenne
Serena was upset by the reaction of the French crowd
Although Roland Garros lies little more than 200 miles from the leafy streets of Wimbledon, in terms of support, it might as well be in another world.

Not for Parisians the serene delights of strawberries, Pimms and impromptu Cliff Richard singalongs.

Mexican waves, chanting and the loud haranguing of an unpopular player are more likely to be on the menu.

The rowdy crowd have been called everything from "wonderful and inspirational" to "ignorant and without class".

Whichever you believe, the French fans at Roland Garros certainly provoke a response.

Serena Williams was in tears after her defeat to Justine Henin-Hardenne, saying the crowd were tough, booing her success and cheering her mistakes.

It is just difficult when people are booing and screaming between points
Serena Williams

The Belgian player said the support was inspirational.

It tends to be all or nothing with the fans at Roland Garros. If they like you, expect to be cheered like a hero. But if they take a dislike to you, be warned.

So why did they turn nasty against Williams?

Her nationality did not help her, given the long-standing antipathy between France and the United States, which intensified over the recent war in Iraq.

Canadian-born Frenchwoman Mary Pierce had to work hard to win over the fans who were convinced she was more North American than French.

Booed and derided for her accent by fans, it took victory at the 2000 French Open - which made her the first home winner for 33 years - to be finally accepted by the Paris faithful.

But the Roland Garros fans cannot be simply classified as anti-American - after all, Andre Agassi is one of their darlings.

Kuerten kisses the French Open after his 2001 triumph
Gustavo Kuerten has a mutual love affair with the French fans
Williams certainly did not endear herself to Paris with the comments she made in March after winning the Nasdaq-100 Open in Miami.

Asked about anti-French feeling in the United States, a snickering Williams mimicked a French accent and said: "Well, we don't want to play in the war. We want to make clothes. We don't want the war."

The intense jeers could have simply been Serena paying the price of her ill-advised joke.

And the fact that Henin-Hardenne was the underdog against the dominant force in the women's game undoubtedly accounted for some of the Belgian's support.

But although Williams probably feels the French crowd are demons, they do - in accordance with the national stereotype - respond very well to a little bit of amour. Even if you are a successful player.

The mutual love-in between three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten and the French fans is a case in point.

'Guga' learnt French because of his affection for the tournament and after his 2001 triumph at Roland Garros told fans: "I love playing at Roland Garros. I love playing for you. Thank you for supporting me."

But while the Americans like a good love story as much as the French, it seems unlikely the affair between Serena Williams and the Roland Garros crowd is ever going to be any other than frosty.




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Serena Williams
"It was a tough crowd out there"


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