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15 Jan 2008 16:59
Crowd trouble and police ejections cast a shadow across Melbourne Park on Tuesday, diverting attention from world-class sport at the Australian Open.
A violent incident marred a tennis fiesta in which fans bathed in glorious sunshine and the world’s best players showcased their skills.
Roger Federer revved up his bid for a 13th Grand Slam title with a slick win, Venus Williams powered through and Lleyton Hewitt turned up the heat, but their exploits were tarnished by scenes at the match between Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez and Greek qualifier Konstantinos Economidis.
Police said three people had been evicted from the grounds and interviewed for assaulting police, failing to obey lawful direction and indecent language.
The trouble erupted, according to eyewitnesses, when police stepped in to deal with a group of about 40 fans, who had been cheering the Greek and singing loudly between points in the match on Margaret Court Arena.
“It was upsetting, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life at a tennis match,” said Stephen Butterick, a BBC Radio producer.
“The Chileans outnumbered them by about 8-1 but the Greek guys were in one corner of the court, chanting, making loads of noise. We were watching Gonzalez, and suddenly, I don’t know why, a policeman appeared.
“He tried to get someone, and that stage there were two policemen.
The other lads got up and started pushing and shoving and he ([he policeman] sprayed some kind of mace spray.
A police statement said that complaints were received after a group of fans started offensive chants during the match.
Members of the crowd had become aggressive and threatening, causing police to use pepper spray to keep them at bay.
The trouble came a year after Croatian and Serbian fans fought and traded insults at the tournament, resulting in 150 people being ejected.
Tournament directors had promised that the event would have a “zero-tolerance” attitude for any trouble, helped by more CCTV coverage and a “significant” police presence.
Earlier in the day, Australia’s skin-reddening sun burnt down on day two but a gentle breeze had kept courtside temperatures around the mid-30s.
Third seed Novak Djokovic set the standard by swatting aside Benjamin Becker 6-0 6-2 7-6 and Hewitt, a former world number one seeded 19th, beat Steve Darcis 6-0 6-3 6-0 in front of his home crowd.
“In the end I felt like I could do pretty much what I wanted to do out there and play on my terms, which is good,” the Australian said.
Women’s fourth seed Ana Ivanovic eased past Romania’s Sorana Cirstea 7-5 6-3 and second seed Svetlana Kuznetsova swept aside France’s Nathalie Dechy 6-3 6-1.
France’s Fabrice Santoro beat John Isner 6-2 6-2 6-4 in his record 62nd Grand Slam singles tournament. When 35-year-old Santoro made his Slam debut at the 1989 French Open, Isner was four-years-old.
When Williams and Federer opened the centre court night sessions, T-shirts had been replaced by sweaters but the favourites’ continued to dominate.
Wimbledon champion Williams, seeded eighth, swept through with a 6-2 7-5 win over China’s Yan Zi and world number one Federer made a smooth start to his bid for a fourth Australian Open title with a 6-0 6-3 6-0 demolition of Argentine Diego Hartfield.—Reuters
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