French Open fans angry as COVID-19 curfew imposed during match

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PARIS — Novak Djokovic’s French Open quarterfinal against Matteo Berrettini was delayed for about 22 minutes Wednesday night while thousands of spectators were cleared out of the stadium court because of an 11 p.m. coronavirus curfew.

Pandemic-related restrictions were loosened to allow 5,000 inside on Court Philippe-Chatrier rather than the 1,000 for the previous matches, and it was quite an atmosphere until the rule was imposed.

“The conditions were strange with the fans here and then the atmosphere was a bit different (afterward),” Djokovic said after winning 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5 to reach his 40th Grand Slam semifinal. “You have to find a different motivation because the energy from the fans is special.”

Some disappointed fans jeered and even sang “We’ve paid, we’ll stay” as they refused to leave at 10:45 p.m. as curfew approached.

Shortly before 10:55 p.m., both players packed their bags and walked off while fans shouted out in frustration. The top-ranked Djokovic was up 2-1 in sets and leading 3-2 in the fourth when play was halted.

Berrettini waved to the crowd as they chanted his name shortly before the players departed. The big-hitting Italian said he felt for them. He also felt some sting was taken out of his game.

“I think it’s a shame, it’s something that I didn’t like. But it’s bigger than us, it’s not that you can do something about,” the ninth-seeded Berrettini said of the curfew. “I was feeling the momentum. I was playing good. Stopping wasn’t the best thing for my tennis, but I had to take it.”

Fans really didn’t take it well, however, and they certainly let it be known.

“Rip-off!” one said, while others blamed broadcaster Amazon or French Tennis Federation president Guy Forget.

Within a few minutes the main stadium was almost completely empty, although two angry fans continued to argue they had a right to stay until security officials finally ushered them away at 11:10 p.m.

“It’s unfortunate for the tournament, for the crowd, to have that curfew. But we knew it before the match,” Djokovic said. “Referee came up to us and said (that) `if it comes close to 11:00, we’ll have to empty the stadium.’ That’s what happened.”

Moments later, both players came back out to warm up amid a cathedral-like silence as the sound of ball hitting racket replaced the sometimes raucous atmosphere. After being away from live sports for so long, an appreciative crowd seemed to be in the mood for entertainment.

“I thought the atmosphere was (like the) Davis Cup,” Djokovic said. “A lot of fans involved, every single point cheering, screaming. Just (an) electric atmosphere out there.”

That unbridled enthusiasm starting to turn sour at 10:30 p.m. when chair umpire James Keothavong was roundly jeered for reminding the fans they had to leave at 10:45 p.m.

Most did not, but at just after 11:15 p.m. the players had resumed their match.

The top-ranked Djokovic experienced something similar during the Australian Open in February, when fans needed to be ushered out of the main show court during his victory over Taylor Fritz because of coronavirus restrictions in Melbourne.

Unlike the crowd, Djokovic appreciated the brief rest this time.

“I didn’t mind actually leaving the court,” he said. “I felt like I needed a little bit of a break and reset.”

Unseeded Parks beats top-seeded Garcia for her 1st title

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LYON, France — Unseeded American Alycia Parks secured a stunning 7-6 (7), 7-5 upset win over WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia in the Open Metropole de Lyon final to clinch her first career title.

“I think France has a special part in my heart right now,” Parks said. “I’ll be back next year.”

The 22-year-old Parks, who is ranked 79th, had 15 aces and saved all four break points against the top-seeded Garcia.

Parks secured the only break of a tight contest to win the match.

The fifth-ranked Garcia, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year, was seeking a 12th career title.

“Congrats on a great tournament,” Garcia told Parks in English. “If you keep playing like this for sure you’re going to keep going up (the rankings).”

Parks has a career-best ranking of 75th.

The 29-year-old Garcia, who grew up in Lyon, took time to thank her home crowd – this time in French.

“It means a lot to play here, thanks for being here,” Garcia said. “You supported me from the first point to the last. Thanks for all your encouragement.”

Zhu beats Tsurenko to win Thailand Open

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HUA HIN, Thailand — Zhu Lin of China won her maiden career title after beating Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the Thailand Open.

In a match lasting one hour and 45 minutes, both players exchanged nail-biting baseline rallies before Zhu finally found a way past her determined opponent.

The 29-year-old Chinese player managed a break to go up 5-3 in the first set. Although she was broken to love in the following game, Zhu returned the favor straight back, also to love, to take the opening set in 46 minutes.

The second saw players trade breaks with Zhu eventually securing her first match point at 5-3. She sprayed a shot wide to miss the chance but capitalized on her third in the 10th game with a backhand winner.

“I’m so happy to finally win my first tour title. All the hard work finally paid off,” said the No. 54-ranked Zhu, who will crack the top 50 when the new WTA rankings are updated.

Zhu has started the season strongly, reaching the quarter-finals in Auckland and the last 16 at the Australian Open.

The victory also allowed Zhu to avenge her loss to the Ukrainian at the WTA Dubai Championships back in 2019.

Despite the loss, the No. 136-ranked Tsurenko, 33, will return to the top 100.