Tennis: Balancing act on security: The knife attack on Monica Seles has made protection of leading players the Grand Slams' priority. John Roberts reports from Paris

Click to follow
The Independent Online
TENNIS is likely to take longer to heal from the wounds inflicted upon Monica Seles during a knife attack in Germany than the player herself. Though the world No 1 is unable to defend her title here at the French Open, or to compete at Wimbledon next month, scarcely a day goes by without her name evoking concern for the safety of other players.

Security measures have been increased at Stade Roland Garros, the most evident being the presence of plain-clothes policemen in front-row seats behind the players' chairs, in other parts of the court and in the interview room.

Photographers are not allowed on the courts without an official armband, a rule which had been relaxed during the first week of the tournament in previous years. Spectators and staff are searched at the gates, though such precautions have been in operation for several years following a series of bombings in the city.

After Sunday's exhibition matches, for charity on the eve of the tournament, security men at the Musketeers' Gate waited for spectators to reclaim a collection of some 40 knives of various shapes and sizes, many of which had been brought for picnics. Meetings have been held at the All England Club to decide what additional security is needed for the Wimbledon championships, which are due to start on 21 June. As with the French Open, details are not being publicised.

One possible change would be for the players' seats to back on to the umpire's chair, facing down the court instead of across it and affording the players a view of spectators during change-overs.

Wimbledon is accustomed to dealing with royalty and leading politicians, and the grounds are stewarded by members of the armed forces. Ushering public figures from their cars to Wimbledon's inner sanctum and to the royal box probably presents fewer potential problems than escorting celebrity players to outside courts.

The phenomenon of the teenage Bjorn Borg being mobbed by young admirers in the early 1970s prompted the club to review security. Police escorts began to be used when the situation merited them.

Crowd control at Wimbledon has improved since the football tragedies at Bradford City and Hillsborough. In 1990, complying with the Government's sports grounds safety regulations, the standing room on the Centre Court was replaced by seating, and the Centre Court, Court One and several other courts became all-ticket.

The All England Club recently outlined plans for a redevelopment programme, which will cost in excess of pounds 100m and take 20 years to complete. A new No 1 court, which could be built in three years if planning permission is granted by the London Borough of Merton, will feature underground passages to aid access and security.

The sport is also endeavouring to avoid over-reaction. As Seles said: 'They shouldn't get paranoid, but they need to improve security'.

Comments