Seville crowd do their worst
By Andrew Baker
The Spanish do not come to tennis matches to spectate. They come to join in. They do not just get behind their players: they get in the way of the opposition.
Halfway through the third set of the match between Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick, the American moved in for a crucial volley. Just as he made contact with the ball, a spectator gave a loud yell. Roddick missed his shot, and the crowd exulted.
But the umpire was having nothing of it and ordered the point to be replayed. Outraged, the Spanish crowd pointed at the tiny contingent of American fans. It was them, they cried. The Americans pointed back. It was a playground spat involving 26,000 people, 25,700 of whom were Spanish.
Another favourite trick is the wolf-whistle in the middle of the American's service action. A particularly persistent exponent of this was a tubby little boy in the VIP seats: his mum patted him on the head after every whistle.
There was nothing unexpected about all of this. The Spanish crowds have always been rowdy, and they reserve their worst behaviour for Davis Cup finals. The Australian players were given a horrible reception in the final in Barcelona four years ago. But this is nastier. This is personal and, unfortunately, political.
Hey, the Spanish say it is just enthusiasm, and that is a quality the Spanish have in spades. While watching tennis, they simultaneously do many other things with enthusiasm. They drink, smoke, argue, snog and have lengthy and loud mobile phone conversations.
They also play the tuba or the big bass drum. It is an interesting aspect of the security operation here that police officers will X-ray something as harmless as a notebook, while admitting an entire brass band with impunity.
The stadium is bizarre enough without musical accompaniment. The matches are being played at one end of the vast, rudimentary and optimistically named Estadio Olimpico. This edifice was built in Field of Dreams style in the hope of landing the Olympics of 2004.
They built it, but the Games did not come, and Sevillans have been wondering what to do with it ever since. Their latest brainwave has been to dump several tons of clay at one end, build temporary grand stands all over the football pitch, and have the Davis Cup come to town.
Great idea. Except that it is December. And in December even in southern Spain the weather can be on the chilly side. So this was not only the largest crowd to attend a Davis Cup final but also the coldest.
And the wettest. The organisers have sensibly erected a temporary roof over the court itself, but have not extended the coverage to the cheap seats. The rain in Spain falls mainly on the mean.
The players were alright; they could run around. That was the idea, at least, but Mardy Fish stopped running about halfway through the final set of his match against Carlos Moya when he realised that no matter how much effort he put in he was never going to out- manoeuvre his opponent.
Fish likened the experience to a particularly partisan college American football game, but he felt that he was now well qualified to advise his team-mates on the conditions they were about to encounter. "If somebody has a question about the court or the fans or how it is out there," Fish said, "I'll just yell and scream as loud as I can."