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Ben Blackmore is deputy editor of ESPN.co.uk

  • French Open, Day Four

Empty seats show disrespect, not French fancy, for Fed

Ben Blackmore May 30, 2012

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How much would one pay to see Usain Bolt at the London 2012 Games this summer? Would £5000 do it? In some cases, maybe. What about £1000? Getting there. £500? Almost certainly.

Now switch the focus from the world's best sprinter to, arguably, the greatest tennis player to have ever graced the game: Roger Federer. How much to witness the majesty of the 16-time grand slam winner in the sun-soaked conditions of Court Philippe Chatrier in Paris?

Granted, it is an unfair comparison. The Olympics only come every four years and may only arrive in England once in a lifetime. By contrast, Federer has played Roland Garros for 13 years and will more-than-likely do so again in 12 months' time.

However, a considerable piece of history was made by Federer on Wednesday - a real "I was there" landmark, and it was done against the disrespectful backdrop of empty seats and the distant, muffled sound of clinking champagne glasses.

Federer's victory over Adrian Ungur was, in isolation, utterly predictable and only mildly memorable. But it may go down as one of the finest achievements of the Swiss' phenomenal career after he registered his 234th victory in grand slam competition, breaking the Open era record previously held by Jimmy Connors.

Many locals will be able to say they were there to witness it. But the majority of the privileged - owners of the VIP seats for the day - may not even remember how they got home, let alone the piece of sporting history that had just passed them by.

The rows of empty seats in Paris were staggering, particularly when placed in the context of Wimbledon, where stars from all over the world annually convene to feast their eyes on not only Federer, but the rest of his peers too. Sean Connery has been spotted, Diana Ross, Sachin Tendulkar... all royalty in their respective fields. Speaking of royalty, the future King of England Prince William loves to witness a bit of the Wimbledon action.

To be in the presence of greatness is both priceless and unmissable; to shun such an opportunity for the perks of VIP seating is to show a clear lack of respect

That is not to say that Roland Garros doesn't attract its own share of stars - it does - but you can count the amount of times there has been an empty seat at Wimbledon during a Federer match on one hand. To be in the presence of greatness is both priceless and unmissable; to shun such an opportunity for the perks of VIP seating is to show a clear lack of respect.

Unfortunately, 'respect' is something that has often been questioned in the context of the Paris crowd at Roland Garros. Rafael Nadal, for instance, despite proving himself to be the most formidable player ever to have pounded the French clay - with six French Open titles to date - still gets booed by sections of the locals.

Even ahead of the 2012 iteration Nadal had to answer questions about how he feels when the crowd turn on him. He played it down, such is his mild manner, but he deserves to have plenty to say about an audience that, at times, show clear displeasure in his direction despite his worst trait being a tendency to take his time when serving.

Maria Sharapova is another to have experienced hostility, and famously she did lash back after a 2008 match with Dinara Safina. After being booed off court due to her grunting and apparent Americanised ways, the Russian shouted: "Allez… up your f***ing ass."

When the likes of Sharapova, Nadal and certainly Federer are heard over the coming weeks saying Wimbledon is their favourite slam, do not dismiss it as crowd-pleasing hyperbole. Federer, in particular, makes such statements out of deep respect for SW19, which is mutually reciprocated by those in attendance.

To witness the greatness of such individuals as Bolt and Federer is hard to put a price on. But to show them the respect they deserve by staying in your seat to watch them requires nothing... other than a little dignity of course.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Ben Blackmore is deputy editor of ESPN.co.uk