US Open athletes playing into the early hours, raucous New Yorkers and booze has always made for an explosive Arthur Ashe atmosphere with alleged Hitler slur at Alexander Zverev just the latest crowd incident in its history
Tennis’s insistence on its athletes playing into the early hours, balmy weather, raucous New Yorkers and lashings of booze can make for an explosive combination, as Flushing Meadows has discovered before.
Today US Open chiefs were picking through the latest crowd incident, which saw a fan ejected for shouting ‘Deutschland Uber Alles’ at Alex Zverev during his marathon fourth-round victory over Italian Jannik Sinner that spilled into Tuesday morning.
The fan, who was sitting in prime seats which cost hundreds of dollars, was escorted out by security after barracking the German player, who understandably took exception to words which have such historical associations.
Zverev is not seen as the most sympathetic figure by some fans, but clearly a line was crossed. James Keothavong – brother of former British player Anne and one of the world’s most experienced umpires – immediately intervened to see that the offender was identified.
On Tuesday morning tournament officials were trying to establish if the New York Police Department had become involved on an official level, at a time past midnight when the crowd was thinning out, on what had been a hot and humid Labor Day Bank Holiday.
A fan was ejected for shouting ‘Deutschland Uber Alles’ at Alex Zverev at the US Open Monday
The spectator was escorted out by security after barracking the German player
The atmosphere is often rowdy at Arthur Ashe with play going on into the early hours
Arthur Ashe Stadium is the world’s biggest purpose-built tennis arena seating more than 22,000, and no stranger to febrile atmospheres. Under lights it takes on a different dimension, and some of the most highly charged atmospheres in recent years have developed in matches involving Serena Williams, especially at times when she has lost her composure in the heat of battle.
Ejections, however, are relatively rare and usually they involve drunks causing a nuisance to others. Tournament veterans were struggling to recall a comparable incident to the slur which Germany’s leading player took exception to, informing Keothavong that he heard what he described as ‘the most famous Hitler phrase’.
The Arthur Ashe – named after the great humanitarian and former champion – was opened in 1997 and it was to replace the old Louis Armstrong Stadium, which had become known for taking on a different character after nightfall.
In 1989 Frenchman Yannick Noah was involved in a particularly fractious match against Israel’s Amos Mansdorf, after which he initially refused to shake hands with his opponent. There were allegations of insults being traded between their support boxes and afterwards Noah voiced the suspicion that the hugely hostile crowd reaction he received might have been related to his skin colour, and the nationality of his opponent.
Two years later bore witness to the most uproarious atmospheres of all, when a 39 year-old Jimmy Connors went on a tear to the semi-finals. One of his opponents during that run was Dutchman Paul Haarhuis, who was also on court for one of the greatest Wimbledon occasions of modern times when he played Tim Henman in a Middle Sunday epic. He described his experience at Flushing Meadows as being ‘far more chilling’ than that at SW19.
Serena Williams previously has lost her composure in the heat of battle at Arthur Ashe
Laura Siegemund complained about the reception she had during her loss to Coco Gauff
The history of Arthur Ashe has continued to be punctuated by players getting wound up by the crowds. Last week another German player, Laura Siegemund, complained about the reception she had during her narrow loss to Coco Gauff.
In 2019 the combative Russian Daniil Medvedev raised his middle finger to the assembly after winning against a hostile background: ‘I want all of you to know when you are asleep tonight I won because of you,’ he gloated to them on the microphone afterwards.
So it is never going to be exactly the Centre Court, where the loudest sound during points is often the annoying pop of a champagne bottle.
Not that it excuses unacceptable slurs of any kind, but when requiring players to compete late into the night in front of crowds – revved up at changeovers by music and camera sweeps – and who seem able to absorb the stratospheric prices of alcohol on sale, incidents will occur.