INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Michael Llodra was fined $2,500 by the ATP after directing a racial outburst at an Asian-American fan during his first-round match in Indian Wells.
During the third set of his match against Ernests Gulbis, the 31-year-old Frenchmen grew visibly frustrated with a small group of Gulbis supporters sitting courtside. Alex Lee Barlow was one of those supporters. Barlow, a 44-year-old tennis fan from Oakland, Calif., was visiting the tournament for her sixth year with her husband.
“I was fairly vocal,” Barlow told SI.com. “But I don’t think I was doing anything out of line.” Barlow said she wasn’t cheering or clapping during the points. But the fans were clearly getting under Llodra’s skin. Earlier in the match, when Gulbis double-faulted and his cheering squad groaned with disappointment, Llodra turned and mocked them. Barlow said he turned around and said ‘Oh, you’re all crying now? You should be crying. You’re all s**t.’”
Llodra’s frustration boiled over and took an ugly turn in the third set when, in response to the crowd’s cheering, Llodra singled out Barlow. “He said something in French. I didn’t understand what he was saying but he looked right at me when he said it. Everyone in my section heard it.”
One person who heard the comment was Canadian tennis journalist Tom Tebbutt, who tracked down Barlow’s brother after the match to confirm what was said. Tebbutt, who speaks French, said Llodra called the woman “a f***ing Chinese,” while the New York Times reported Llodra said “putain Chinoise,” which translates roughly as “Chinese whore.” Either way, we get the picture.
And Barlow isn’t Chinese, she’s Korean-American and was cheering in English.
Llodra’s comments have made waves in China. The initial reports of his outburst have been retweeted hundreds of times on China’s version of Twitter, Weibo. Needless to say, Chinese fans are outraged. Comments have ranged from noting the paucity of the $2,500 fine to saying Llodra shouldn’t be allowed to play in China.
The image of a white tennis player singling out an Asian fan and calling her a misogynistic and racially-charged derogatory term is the last thing tennis needs as the sport tries to open its doors to Chinese fans and players. Zheng Jie heard about the incident and was upset by what she heard. She told Chinese reporters that she thinks Llodra should apologize. Li Na also heard about it and offered her apologies on behalf of the players.
“If the French player say the bad thing to her, I would like to say so sorry,” Li said on Tuesday. “Doesn’t matter if you’re angry or something, you shouldn’t say bad words to the fans. Same like you couldn’t say something bad to the family.”
Barlow said that she tried to ignore the comment, not wanting it to taint her enjoyment of the tournament. But as the day wore on and she thought about it she became more upset. “It was casual racism. It happens, unfortunately. I don’t feel this should go unaddressed. I just want an apology from him and an acknowledgment that he was out of line.”
That apology hasn’t come and based on Llodra’s comments after the incident, it won’t be coming anytime soon. Barlow says she hasn’t been contacted by the ATP or Llodra about the incident, though tournament director Steve Simon contacted her directly to inform her of the fine and told her that Llodra had been formally reprimanded by the ATP. But attempts to get Llodra to call her and apologize have failed.
But even more problematic is the fact that Llodra, who won the China Open doubles title in 2005, doesn’t even seem to care or understand that he’s done something wrong. Llodra insisted to Chinese reporters that he is not racist and he doesn’t want to lose fans in China but dismissed the comment as an outburst borne from the heat of competition. Speaking with a Chinese reporter, Llodra said his words were not directed at China, Japan, or Asia in general. Then, he continued, “I love Chinese — I can totally make love with a Chinese girl,” before an ATP official cut him off.
His baffling comments to the press afterward show no sign of contrition and despite attempts by the tournament and the ATP to get him to apologize to the fan, Llodra has refused.
Llodra retired with a knee injury from his second-round match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.