When tennis and soccer collide: Wimbledon players and crowd keep one eye on Euro 2024

LONDON (AP) — Carlos Alcaraz is slightly worried about a possible scheduling conflict for his Wimbledon quarterfinal on Tuesday.

If the defending champion’s match against Tommy Paul is played in the evening, there’s a good chance he won’t be able to watch Spain’s semifinal against France at soccer’s European Championship.

“Hopefully on Tuesday we are not going to play at the same time,” the Spaniard said. “Hopefully I will be able to see a little bit from the match.”

It’s an issue that pops up every time Wimbledon coincides with a major soccer tournament such as the World Cup or the Euros. Players often find themselves keeping half an eye on how their country’s national team is doing even while focusing on their own progress at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament.

Even the crowd gets caught up in it, as Novak Djokovic found out on Saturday.

His third-round match was played while England faced Switzerland in the Euro 2024 quarterfinals, and Djokovic could tell the Centre Court crowd wasn’t fully focused on the tennis. When news filtered down that England had won a penalty shootout to advance — a rarity for a country that has a history of losing such shootouts — the crowd cheered so loudly that Djokovic’s opponent Alexei Popyrin had to interrupt his serve and pause for a moment in the second set.

No one had to tell Djokovic why they were cheering.

The seven-time champion — whose Serbia lost to England in the group stage — realized right away what had happened and seized the moment to mimic kicking a ball toward the net. Popyrin caught on too, and mimicked a goalkeeper making a save.

“I assumed that it was a penalty shootout between England and Switzerland,” Djokovic said in an on-court interview after his win. “It felt like for a set and half, the crowd really wanted to (know) what the score is in the football match. Did England win in the end?”

When Djokovic was told that England had, indeed, won, he replied: “That’s why you guys stayed.”

Alcaraz has already had to rearrange some of his Wimbledon responsibilities because of the soccer. His third-round match on Friday ended while Spain was playing Germany in the Euro 2024 quarterfinals, and he quickly asked for the score during his post-match interview on Centre Court before going to watch the rest of the game. Then, when Spain’s match went into 30 minutes of extra time, an announcement was immediately made in the Wimbledon press center that Alcaraz’s scheduled news conference — which was just about to start — had been pushed back half an hour.

Even players whose countries aren’t playing at the Euros have been following the tournament closely. Two-time Wimbledon runner-up Ons Jabeur, who is from Tunisia, said last week that watching Cristiano Ronaldo miss a penalty for Portugal against Slovenia made her cry “because I love him so much.”

England plays the Netherlands on Wednesday in the Euro 2024 semifinals, but Wimbledon had no plans to devote any of their screens to soccer.

“When you come to Wimbledon, you come to watch the tennis,” Michelle Dite, operations director at the All England Club, said last Tuesday. “We think that’s really important. That’s what people have purchased their ticket for, so we will retain coverage of tennis at all times in the grounds.”

Alcaraz has a personal connection to some of the Spain players, and said he is good friends with Alvaro Morata, the team’s starting striker.

“Right now it’s time to support them, as I know they support me when I’m playing matches,” Alcaraz said. “It’s my turn.” ___

AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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