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Australian Open hit again by crowd trouble

January 16, 2008 09:41 IST

The Australian Open has been left struggling to live up to its image as the "Happy Slam" after crowd trouble marred the season's opening Grand Slam for the second year running.

Champion Roger Federer dubbed the season's opening major as the "Happy Slam" 12 months ago as the event usually tops the list of favourite destinations for the players on tour because of its laid back set-up and top class organisation.

But unfortunately for organisers of the Melbourne Park tournament, that image has been tarnished after on-court action was again marred by security issues on Tuesday.

Last January, about 150 brawling fans were evicted from the grounds after fighting flared between rival Croat and Serb supporters.

It was the first time such violence had erupted in more than 100 years of Grand Slam tennis.

After admitting they had been under-prepared to deal such an incident, tournament organisers said they would adopt a "zero-tolerance" attitude for any trouble for the 2008 event, helped by more CCTV coverage and police presence.

Last year's ugly scenes did not turn out to be an isolated incident.

On Tuesday, police resorted to using pepper spray on a section of rowdy supporters packed into the Margaret Court Arena for Chilean Fernando Gonzalez's match against Konstantinos Economidis, a Greek qualifier.

Three people were evicted and interviewed for assaulting police, failing to obey lawful direction and using indecent language.

The trouble erupted, according to eyewitnesses, when police stepped in to deal with a group of around 40 fans, who had been cheering the Greek loudly between points.

The fracas meant the play on court was interrupted for around 10 minutes.

"It was upsetting, I've never seen anything like it in my life at a tennis match," said Stephen Butterick, a BBC Radio producer.

NEW DIMENSION

In a statement, Victoria Police said they used the spray because they feared for their safety after fans became aggressive towards them, having failed to cut out what they described as "offensive chanting".

Events at the Australian Open have added a new dimension to Grand Slam tennis and one that may have a knock-on effect on how other events, including the French and US Opens and Wimbledon, make security arrangements.

Thankfully, the trouble does not seem to have spilled out of the boundaries of Melbourne Park, as far as the tennis world is concerned.

The scenes witnessed in Australia are a far cry from the normal headline news at tennis's blue-riband events.

Usually the only unsavoury occurrences at Grand Slams are when players engage in verbal spats with on-court officials or smash their rackets in anger.

On a really bad day, over-zealous parents of female tennis athletes have also produced the odd headline.

But with police at the Open clashing with fans for the second time in as many years, organisers of tennis tournaments around the world will be keeping a close eye on proceedings to ensure similar clashes are not replicated.

Source:
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