WATCH: When Serena Williams Was Heckled by the French Open Crowd

Published 05/23/2021, 12:18 PM EDT
Tennis – French Open – Roland Garros, Paris, France – Serena Williams of the U.S. reacts during her first round match against Kristie Ahn of the U.S. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes


Serena Williams has achieved the least success at the French Open compared to other Slams. After lifting her maiden title at Roland Garros in 2002, she won her second trophy after more than a decade in 2013.

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Her third French Open title came in 2015 when she defeated Lucie Safarova in a thrilling three-set final. Out of her monumental 33 Grand Slam finals appearances, just four have come at the French Open.

Tennis – WTA Premier 5 – Italian Open – Foro Italica, Rome, Italy – May 12, 2021 Serena Williams of the U.S. in action during her second round match against Argentina’s Nadia Podoroska REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Apart from the slow, high bouncing, and the physically grinding clay court, the Parisian crowd has also occasionally been hostile towards the American. One such instance happened at the 2003 French Open when Williams, terribly heckled by the crowd, burst into tears.

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Fans fry Serena Williams at French Open

Heading to the 2003 French Open, Williams had won the previous four Grand Slam tournaments (’02 French Open, Wimbledon, US Open, ’03 Australian Open) and completed her first ‘Serena Slam.’

The American seemed on course to reach her fifth consecutive Grand Slam final as she entered the semifinals to face her arch-rival, Justine Henin. Serving 4-2 15/0 up in the third set, Williams saw Henin raise her hand as if she was not ready to receive the serve.

Williams served anyway, but the ball hit the net. Hence, she asked the Portuguese umpire, Jorge Dias, for two serves since she felt distracted by Henin’s hand movement.

The umpire’s claim of not having seen the goof-up, followed by Henin’s mysterious silence when the umpire looked in her direction, resulted in Williams being visibly annoyed. While the crowd was never on Williams’ side, the unfolding drama resulted in them booing louder at her.

After the umpire ruled out the decision against Williams, the crowd started lustily booing the American every time between serves and cheered whenever she faulted.

Tennis – French Open – Roland Garros, Paris, France – Serena Williams of the U.S. during her first round match against Kristie Ahn of the U.S. REUTERS

Eventually, Williams lost the closely contested semifinal and the crowd’s churlishness reduced her to tears in the post-match conference. She admitted feeling upset about being booed by the spectators while her mother, Oracene Price, stated the crowd lacked ‘class and etiquette.’

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“I was really upset when they booed me,” Serena said. “Once they got started it was hard to make them stop.”

In conclusion, the Williams-Henin semifinal match was arguably the most high-octane and drama-fraught match of their almost decade-long rivalry.

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Kshitij Tayal

392 articles

Kshitij Tayal is a tennis author at EssentiallySports. Having played district-level tennis competitions, Kshitij is also a tenured journalist of the sport with over four years of experience. At EssentiallySports, he pens down some thought-provoking pieces on players and tournaments across the ATP and WTA.

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