September 21, 2023

Open Court


Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz meet on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, May 27, 2023

ROLAND GARROS – Two weeks ago, the day before this year’s edition of Roland Garros even began, there was madness on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

(Warning: major Djokovic content ahead).

It was Kids’ Day. And there were thousands of kids, and their parents, all over the grounds enjoying some practices and exhibition matches.

Court Suzanne-Lenglen was packed as Novak Djokovic played Karen Khachanov, just after lunch.

The two would meet 10 days later, in the quarterfinals, with Djokovic winning in four sets.

But after they played one exhibition set, everything got wrapped up – much to Djokovic’s surprise, and annoyance.

There was still half an hour left in the 90-minute window scheduled for them on Suzanne-Lenglen. and clearly Djokovic hadn’t been told that it wasn’t a full practice slot, per se. It was just one exhibition set.

And Djokovic wanted to practice some more.

So as Khachanov headed over to sign some autographs, Djokovic, his team and especially his hitting partner ran around, trying to stop the court attendants from sweeping the court, so he could get back to it.

(Part of the reason behind all of this frantic scramble was likely because it was Media Day. And Djokovic had a number of obligations and interviews later on in the afternoon. No doubt this was scheduled as his only practice of the day. And they didn’t get the memo about the format. But he was pretty chapped).

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A little emergency backhand repair

Finally, all of that was straightened out (sort of).

The ballkids returned, the court staff moved aside.

And then Djokovic and his team had a pretty intense discussion about backhand technique.

Finally, after all that was sorted, Djokovic didn’t forget the absolute SWARM of fans that were there to get an autograph or a selfie.

You wonder, sometimes, how it looks to the person who is the object of all that attention.

Just oceans of humanity, and seas of arms outstretched, asking and begging. It must seem an impossible task to even attempt to make everyone happy. Or even most.

But Djokovic did his best.

The patience displayed by the top players in these situations is pretty remarkable.

A kid in distress – Djoko to the rescue

On the downside this up-close-and-personal access, one of these days, is going to end in serious incident. It’s actually surprising it hasn’t already, bar a few situations over the years that turned out to be harmless, but were concerning at first blush.

There was only one small security staff member there with Djokovic. And she really wasn’t doing much to try to control the swarm of fans, who these days basically have no boundaries any more.

At some point, this little boy must have tumbled out of the stands. Or he jumped onto the court. Unclear.

But it looks like he might have bumped his bum along the way. And Djokovic, a father or two, took the situation in hand.

He brought the kid over to the bench area, and supplied him with water, a towel, a cap – and a hug.

And then he came back to where the boy had appeared, and did his best to direct traffic in the stands to he could be returned to his parent.

It was like trying to part the Red Sea. Except Djokovic isn’t Moses. He attempted to get people to move aside so he could safely return the little boy. But no one was paying attention. They just continued to swarm. And he wasn’t getting any help.

In the meantime, another kid appeared on the court. And he was just wandering around, following Djokovic, no one even bothering to keep an eye on him or get him off the court.

Djokovic shouldn’t have to take this on himself. Truly.

Luckily, he was just a harmless-looking kid. But who knows who is harmless and who isn’t these days? These situations are rife with potential issues. And everything around one of the most famous people in the world was just pretty laissez-faire.

Finally, a couple of other security guys arrived and someone talked to the kid.

The Future enters the court

After all that, it was time for the next exhibition set.

And that meant that Carlos Alcaraz and Stefanos Tsitsipas walked onto Suzanne-Lenglen.

(As it happened, another future quarterfinal, won in impressive fashion by Alcaraz).

Hugs and hellos from the men who have swapped the No. 1 spot in the rankings the last little while.

And as Alcaraz and Tsitsipas began to hit up, Djokovic didn’t forget the fans at the other end of the court.

More autographs. More selfies.

All in all, the day before the main draw begins at Roland Garros is hardly low-key or relaxing for any of the players, as much as the new regime at the tournament is ultra-focused on their serenity.

Two weeks later, Alcaraz and Djokovic meet again.

This time for real, in the Roland Garros men’s semifinals on Friday.

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