At Australian Open, watching tennis more dangerous than playing it

  • AFP, Melbourne
  • Updated: Jan 21, 2016 16:14 IST
Officials gather around an unseen injured spectator as play is stopped in the women's singles match between Serbia's Ana Ivanovic against Latvia's Anastasija Sevastova on day four of the 2016 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 21, 2016. (AFP Photo)

Playing tennis carries its risks but at this year’s Australian Open, watching has been even more dangerous after a series of medical emergencies in the opening few days.

Several players were struggling with injury in the build-up to the season’s first Grand Slam, but so far it’s the spectators and ball kids who have had more problems in Melbourne.

On Thursday, Ana Ivanovic was shaken after an elderly fan was badly hurt in a fall on some steps in Rod Laver Arena, in worrying scenes which held up play for 30 minutes.

“I was really shaking, because the sound of the lady falling was really loud. I could hear it,” said the former world number one, who looked on anxiously before the spectator was finally stretchered away.

The incident came after Bernard Tomic was left fearing for a spectator’s life after she suffered a seizure during his first-round match against Denis Istomin.

In dramatic scenes, an anti-allergy shot was quickly passed through the crowd and eventually the patron was taken out of the venue, with the worst of the danger past.

Tomic said it was difficult to know how to react as a player, watching somebody in clear danger but also then having to refocus on one of the biggest matches of the season.

“Potentially someone’s dying and we’re not sure what’s going on. You know, we had 15 minutes’ gap between that service game then only to play one point,” he said afterwards.

“You know, at one stage I was looking directly at the lady. It was not a good moment to be in for me. I felt very, very sad. I really hope she’s okay.”

French former finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also showed his caring side when he assisted a dazed and tearful ball girl after she had been struck in the face with a ball.

Realising the girl was in trouble, the Frenchman took her by the arm, took the balls from her hand and led her from the court -- an act of kindness which drew warm applause.

“I saw she was in trouble,” the modest Tsonga said later. “It was normal to help her out of the stadium. I hope she’s okay.

“To be honest I didn’t do anything special.”

It mirrored a situation earlier in the tournament, when Spain’s Carla Suarez spotted a ball boy swooning in the intense heat, and led him from the court, again to applause.

Perversely, injuries to players have been relatively few, although Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman also fell victim to the heat when he was stretchered away from his opening match with severe cramps.

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