What a strange year it has been, with the Coronavirus completely changing the way we live. Obviously a big part of many people’s lives has been how professional sport is played and attended. Also in terms of the sport of tennis, it changed everything.
Whereas normally, the US Open occurs last in the Grand Slam season, in 2020 it was played first. The event was staged in the first two weeks of September with no crowds and certain top players not willing to play due to health concerns.
So you would not be surprised that organisers were quite stressed about the French Open kicking off not too long after its predecessor in the last week of September. The organisers were hoping to stage the event with thousands of spectators but had their plans scuppered at the last minute, with the French Government limiting crowd numbers to 1,000 a day.
I guess however that is better than no attendance at all. But would this actually make a difference to the psyche of the players? Would the attendance of even a small crowd better certain players who thrive on the noise and the support of their fans? Sofia Kenin of the USA, who won her fourth round match against France's Fiona Ferro, was a perfect example of how a crowd can have an influence on a match.
For Kenin, the biggest concern was the support against her. The American was playing against a local hero, and the limited crowd did not help her case. With the fans against her for the whole game, Kenin found it hard to concentrate.
Hence, the emotions flowed after she got the 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory. In this instance, no crowd would have made things easier for Kenin but a bigger crowd might just have cost her the game. Another example of what a difference a crowd can make was shown when Romania’s Patricia Maria Tig took on France's Fiona Ferro in the third round.
The Romanian was constantly facing taunts from the stands. Naturally, the audience was supporting the French professional. In the first set, the game stretched to the tie-breakers. Fiona was ahead and was a point away from victory.
However, Tig saved the set and let out a wild shriek towards the audience. It was not at all taken properly by the French audience and the Romanian was badly booed. “Someone in the crowd said something that Tig didn’t like.
After she saved a set point, she screamed out loud and got booed
These examples show that crowds can and sometimes do have a massive influence on the outcome of matches. The Oxford Dictionary of Sports Science and Medicine uses the term “the audience effect” and elaborates on it as follows: The effect of an audience on the performance of an athlete.
The relationship between audience and the performer is complex, and is determined by the interaction of the particular factors pertaining in any specific sporting situation. The general effect of an audience is to raise the arousal levels of participants and improve their performance, but for some competitors the audience will be a source of considerable stress and can cause anxiety.
Sunday’s possible men’s final between Nadal and Djokovic seems to be set up to be a cracker of a match with both players hitting form at just the right time. The influence of the crowd, even though only 1000 supporters in attendance, might just be the difference, as both players seem to get that second surge of energy from their fans in the latter part of their matches. The question is: whose fans will get tickets, as this is done via a ticket lottery… What a strange year indeed.