French tennis fans - whenever they can be persuaded to abandon their leisurely lunches and drag themselves out to Roland Garros Stadium for matches at the French Open - can be as discerning and demanding as any in the world. But first they must be provoked.
It doesn’t take much. Wednesday’s two men’s quarterfinals set fans here on edge. In one match, for the first time in four years, they had a French player to cheer for. In the other, they were energized by a Swiss player from Geneva, the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Close enough.
Usually the crowds here save their energy to cheer against players, but when Cedric Pioline took the court against Michael Stich of Germany, and Marc Rosset came on against Bernd Karbacher, also of Germany, fans had two players to cheer. They were able to use standard French Open etiquette: When in doubt, pull against the Germans.
Their cheering and jeering produced mixed results. Stich defeated Pioline 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. The fans’ goodwill aided Rosset, who beat Karbacher, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-0.
The Stich-Pioline match brought out the crowd’s meanness. Stich, ranked No. 16, was whistled at for questioning line calls and cheered when he double-faulted. French fans have heckled players for wearing tennis clothes they consider tasteless.
Pioline had the crowd and the burden of history - not since Henri Leconte in 1992 has a French player reached the quarterfinals. Stich’s crime was being the other guy.
Pioline, ranked No. 19, had three break points against Stich in the first game of the third set and the crowd began to climb all over the German. His double fault - one of two in the match - brought him to 0-40 and brought the crowd to its feet. Stich was visibly angered but shook it off and held.
“It bothered me,” Stich said of the fans’ reaction. “I fortunately held this (game). That was also a little bit of a turning point.”
Stich stepped up his serving and took Pioline out of his game, which offers elegant ground strokes and a crowd-pleasing style.
Pioline affirmed that the crowd was on his side, but shrugged. “If they didn’t support me,” he said, “I didn’t see who they would be able to support.”
Rosset, the 1992 Olympic champion and ranked No. 15, started slowly, but his game began to build on emotion and the strength of his serve. The 6-foot-7 player had 12 aces in the match, which lasted 3-1/2 hours in the afternoon heat.
Rosset lost the first two sets quickly but said he was inspired by Pete Sampras’ comeback from two sets to love against Jim Courier in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.
Five days after getting bounced from the French Open, Jennifer Capriati’s thundering right hand accidentally caught the left eye of a Tampa, Fla., nightclub waitress.
According to police, Capriati got into an argument with her boyfriend late Sunday night at Bubba’s Beach Club. A punch intended for her boyfriend instead hit waitress Angela Larson, who was standing nearby.
Tampa Police spokesman Steve Cole said Larson initially waived pressing charges but filed a battery complaint two days later.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: FRENCH OPEN Winners: Marc Rosset (14) came from two sets down to beat Bernd Karbacher in five sets to reach the semifinals. Michael Stich, seeded 15th, advanced by defeating France’s Cedric Pioline. A look ahead: Steffi Graf, co-ranked No. 1, will continue the defense of her crown in semifinal play against Conchita Martinez (3) while two-time champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (4) takes on Jana Novotna (10).