A guy fan blocked Roger Federer’s way at the French Open in May as the Swiss maestro was walking off court after a routine win against a journeyman.
It turned out that the intruder, a young man, only wanted a selfie with Federer, who, characteristically unflappable, obliged, before apparently realizing that he could have been in harm’s way.
Nothing untoward happened but the incident called attention to breaches of security in tennis tournaments where the Swiss and his fellow superstars—men and women—are magnets for presumably well-intentioned, certified fans who want their 15 minutes of fame at the expense of these high-profile athletes.
Monica Seles and Martina Hingis had close brushes with apparently crazed admirers and their abilities waned after Monica was stabbed in 1993 at the height of her career by a Steffi Graf fan and Martina was stalked months before 1999 by another unstable person, also apparently causing her to lose in the first round of Wimbledon in that year.
More recently, Heather Watson (Britain), Caroline Wozniacki, Serena Williams and Simona Halep were targeted also by male stalkers and Serena, according to The New York Times, when asked about it said, “Very scary.”
Halep (world No. 3 at present), the professional that she is, has refused to blame the stalking for her recent slump, falling early this year in two Grand Slams (Paris and London) when she was tipped to give Serena, Maria Sharapova and the rest of the elite in the sport a good fight.
During the first International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) championships in Manila late last year, there was apparent unfounded fear among the organizers of fans—true-blue ones—getting up close and personal with their invited players, among them, Sharapova and Marin Cilic.
This columnist was to attend a news briefing that would introduce the league to Filipinos and, while waiting for it to begin, people-watched at the lobby of the hotel where the event was to be held.
There was Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion from Croatia, sitting alone on a sofa.
As I started approaching him for what I had thought was going to be an exclusive interview, from out of nowhere popped up a young woman, apparently a PR person, and cut me, quite curtly, mumbling that Cilic was to be left alone.
That was the end of the conversation/discussion, or so ruled the Croatian’s yaya for the day.
The encounter with Cilic’s minder brings out the question: How can members of the working press do their job while each of them is being unjustifiably mistaken for a lunatic or, worse, a terrorist?
In my case, I am a little over five feet, and Cilic is six-foot-six, give or take an inch, and so how can I possibly mess with him?
A few years back, this corner covered Bill Gates’ visit to the Philippines.
Security at the hotel where a news conference was to be conducted was expectedly and understandably tight but I was able to at least see him from a good distance without any of the guardians of the Gates stopping me dead from getting a closer look at the Microsoft Man.
Something’s got to give, where security for tennis stars begins and where access to them by legit journalists ends, especially now that the IPTL is returning to Manila in November.