Fans at Wimbledon unleashed a huge roar when Serena Williams lost in the fourth round of the tournament on Monday. Was it because they were cheering for her vanquisher, Marion Bartoli, or because they were reveling in the defeat of the four-time champion?
Like a Rorschach Test of fandom, you can either hear pro-Bartoli or anti-Serena sentiment in the roar from the fans on Court 1. Bartoli does have some history at Wimbledon, having made the final in 2007 before losing to Venus Williams, so it's not inconceivable that fans were just really, really happy that the No. 9 player in the world won a match to set up a dream quarterfinal against Sabine Lisicki. Or they were cheering for Serena's defeat.
The same question could be asked of fans on Centre Court who erupted in a "huge cheer" when news of Serena's loss was announced. Two prominent British tennis journalists said the collective cheer was disrespectful given that Serena is a four-time winner, the defending champion and returning from a life-threatening injury.
If the end-of-match cheering wasn't disrespectful, the hooting and hollering that took place every time Serena hit an unforced error was. That's the sort of behavior you expect at a Davis Cup match, not a mid-round Slam match where fans wouldn't normally have a specific rooting interest. Whether the post-match cheering is acceptable is another question entirely.
Though the All England Club likes to pride itself on class and gentility, the fans are often raucous and partisan. There's nothing inherently wrong with this. Part of rooting for a specific player involves rooting against another. And just because Serena has earned respect at Wimbledon doesn't mean she necessarily deserves it. U.S. Open crowds have never been crazy about Rafael Nadal and it's not a huge deal. To openly root against a great champion, however, is something different entirely.
To wit, when Venus Williams lost her fourth-round match, fans showered her with cheers.
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