PARIS, France - Home court advantage is a big deal in sports. UEFA's Champions League revolves around the idea, giving more weight to goals scored away than at home. In American sports, home court advantage is a reward for the teams who finish the regular season with the best records. The general tenet is you should win when you're playing at home. Play away from the cheers of your hometown crowd and suddenly things become more difficult. It's a universal truth in sports.
Unless you play tennis. In which case... it's complicated.
In such an international sport with tournaments all over the world, home court advantage is a rare thing for tennis players. The norm is that you're rarely playing at home in front of partisan crowds. Think of Victoria Azarenka, who has never been able to play a WTA event in Belarus, or all the Russians like Maria Sharapova or Svetlana Kuznetsova, who get only one opportunity a year to play in Russia. With the WTA's burgeoning tournaments in China, Li Na admits she's still getting used to playing in front of her Chinese fans.
"Maybe because it's an individual sport and you are just alone on the court and you have to handle all that, and it's not easy," France's No.1 Alizé Cornet said. "If you don't have a lot of experience and maturity it's not easy to face the media, the journalists, the press, your family, any one."
"It's so different from all the other tournaments where you only travel with your coach or someone from your family and you have the feeling that nobody cares so much about you. This time it seems you're on the big scene and everybody is watching what you're doing."
If you hail from a Grand Slam nation, the rare opportunity to play in front of a crowd that should be firmly in your corner comes on the sport's biggest stages, making the event, well, an event. Wins are no doubt celebrated but the losses put under a microscope. Lose in a foreign tournament and most players can just head back to the locker room, pack their bags, and move on. But when an entire press corp has been assigned to track you every move, no loss is anonymous.
Here at the French Open, where the crowd is notoriously fickle, it's hard not to feel for the French players. Just because you fly the tricolore next to your name is no guarantee that the fans will cheer for you. When Alizé Lim took the court against Serena Williams on Sunday the French crowd was subdued. The French wildcard ranked at a career-high No.138 acquitted herself well against the tournament's heavy favorite but the trademark trombone-and-allez cheers were rare. It's difficult to imagine a heavy underdog playing at home in front of a silent crowd in football.
Cornet is playing in her 10th French Open main draw this year and comes in as the No.1 Frenchwoman. She's trying her best to embrace the pressure and use it positively.
"Sometimes they are kind of judging us," Cornet said of the French crowd. "So it's tough to handle the pressure because you know that if you do bad you know they are going to be tough with you; but on the other hand, you need to charm them because they are pretty tough to charm. But when you have them in your pocket they are just behind you 100% and they can give you wings. That's my goal. Trying to have wings with them on the court and fly over my matches. That would be the best scenario possible."