October 23, 2021

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Miami crowd crosses line in Wozniacki-Puig match (updated)

MIAMI, Fla. – It was midnight, and the fans who stayed after the lengthy match between  Miami favorite Juan Martin del Potro and Robin Haase were clearly, well, heartily refreshed.

But world No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki says the often-unruly Miami crowd crossed the line during her match against Monica Puig.

Actually, make that a number of lines.

Here’s part of the statement Wozniacki put out Saturday, after she lost to Puig 0-6, 6-4, 6-4.

“During the match last night people in the crowd threatened my family, wished death upon my mom and dad, called me names that I can’t repeat here and told my fiancé’s niece and nephew (who are 10 years old) to sit down and shut the f*ck up. Meanwhile, security and staff did nothing to prevent this and even accepted this to take place.

“I hope the Miami Open chooses to take this seriously because it’s a horrible example to set for the next generation of tennis players and fans.”

Puig
According to Wozniacki, her supporters during the match against Puig suffered through the dark side of fan partisanship – including a pair of 10-year-olds. (WTATV screenshot)

Tough crowd at best of times

The Miami crowds are not known for being particularly sporting when a Spanish-speaking player is on court. And the 8 p.m. start time for evening sessions and the resultant late hour for the second matches just exacerbates that.

Puig, born in San Juan, Puerto Rico but raised in Miami, is the perfect storm.

Chair umpire Marija Čičak tried to control the unruly mob, to no avail. And she clearly didn’t hear the worst of it.

Many fans were applauding Wozniacki’s errors, which isn’t sporting but hardly unique to this city.

At one point, Wozniacki complained about the crowd making noise during the point.

“How many times did I tell them already?” said chair umpire Marija Čičak – who is the woman you want out there for this situation, because she is strict.

The crowd booed Wozniacki for even daring to ask the umpire to intervene, then cheered her next error.

But even Cicak gave up eventually.

“I know it’s very exciting, but if you could keep (it) to the end of the point. Thank you,” she said late in the third set. But the tone was resigned, the face discouraged.

Again, not ideal, but not that unusual.

Tennis players get a completely unacceptable level of online threats, bullying and unprintable insults at a matter of course. Most often, they come from the bettors after they lose a match they were favored to win.

But it’s rare that you hear of these things going on in broad daylight (so to speak), in public, where everyone can hear them and see them. People who make death threats and yell at 10-year-olds, as Wozniacki claims occurred, tend to fall on the cowardly side.

And there is not much even tournament security can do in a situation like this – even if they confront a fan accused of such behaviour, it’s a “he said, she said” situation.

Tournament director James Blake put out the following statement.

Puig

Meanwhile, Wozniacki hitting partner Venturino Thibault stated on Twitter that incidents indeed were reported during the match. He reiterated that it was a shame the tournament did absolutely nothing.

https://twitter.com/ventuthib/status/977625124621967361

Thibault later clarified to Tennis.Life via Twitter that the more serious threats made to her supporters were not reported during the match. He was referring to the situations that affected Wozniacki during the match – unpleasant, but not something not seen from time to time on a tennis court. Calling a player unprintable names isn’t harassing children.

https://twitter.com/ventuthib/status/977683836783005697

Wozniacki isn’t shy about complaining about perceived injustices. And when it comes to rules, she often has a very valid point. But there’s no doubt it all affected her in this match.

Puig, the big-moment player

Conversely, it buoyed Puig, who showed at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro that the thrives on the big stages. If there were more big stages, her ranking would be a lot better than its current No. 82.

From a high of No. 27 18 months ago, Puig is down to No. 82 and probably needed a big “home” moment to get on a roll. But even she wouldn’t have wanted it to be this way.

Wozniacki, who is a part-time Florida resident herself, has nothing against Puig. In fact, the two are friendly and she noted that in her statement. She also wished her luck for the rest of the tournament.

But it seems the Miami fans will not be on the Dane’s Christmas list, even if it’s a tournament where she has consistently done well with three quarterfinals, a semifinal and, a year ago, a finals appearance. She lost to Johanna Konta.

Luckily for Wozniacki, with all the other points she has earned, she’s not in danger of losing her No. 2 spot in the rankings despite failing to defend all those points.

At worst, she would drop to No. 3 – and then, only if Garbiñe Muguruza wins the whole thing.

The question is, will the tournament act upon her plea? It’s a very difficult thing to police. Perhaps having someone who can address the fans in Spanish – sternly, in Cicak-type fashion – and threaten expulsion to those caught in those types of behaviors might help. The trick is catching them, though.

Especially late into a Friday or Saturday night, when the booze is flowing, and the inhibitions are shed just a little more.

(Screenshots from WTATV)