It’s a finely balanced thing, the mix of revelry and restraint, and the Roman tennis fans have mastered it to perfection.
It’s the “ciao factor.”
Everyone is out to have fun, take in the sun, greet friends, take their children, and wear their hearts on their sleeves. Yet the minute the ball is in play, a hush descends, and a rapt attention elicits a communal “shhhhh” every time the tennis draws excited gasps.
It’s a hush into which even the action of a camera’s shutter seems to intrude.
Yet people happily buy their water and ices from the sellers weaving up and down the steps, passing bottles, euros, and thanks along the ranks.
People shunt into closer seats until the right owner returns. It’s friendly, relaxed, and easy-going; yet passionate and absorbed.
They appreciate high standards of play, and are entirely intolerant of any hint of unfairness. Woe betide the player who questions a call or summons the umpire to confirm whether an apparently blistering winner was in.
Some do try it. A very tetchy Nicolas Almagro, on a small outside court, complained about the noise, about the speed of the ball kids, about life in general. He was soon jeered and whistled for his every move.
It is an unforgiving approach, but it is even-handed. Any and every player who departed from the Roman protocol—and it happened to Rafael Nadal, too—quickly fell into line.