The Australian Open kicked off precisely a week ago, on February 10th, and has already delivered some phenomenal tennis matches. One thing that stood out in this tournament, however, was the attendance of a crowd. Nearly a year into the Coronavirus pandemic, this was a reminder of how much we missed the roar of the crowd, and how vital it is. The artificial crowd noise that Major League Baseball, the N.F.L., the N.B.A., and the N.H.L. have piped in, both for those in the stadiums and arenas and for people watching at home, doesn’t manage to mimic that. What actors refer to as the “fourth wall” – the metaphorical barrier between performers and viewers – doesn’t exist in sports. A crowd’s passion can seemingly help power comebacks. Its scorn can smother one, too.
For about five days at the 2021 Australian Open, we got to hear that sound again, as government officials allowed up to 30,000 fans, about 50 percent capacity, to attend the tournament each day. It was both a joy and a revelation to rediscover the power that the viewers hold in sports. Nick Kyrgios, the tennis antihero everywhere except Australia, where he is beloved, rode the fans to a miracle Wednesday night. He saved two match points in the fourth set against Ugo Humbert, the rising 22-year-old Frenchman. Then he edged Humbert in the fifth set in front of an explosive crowd that never gave up on its hometown hero. “Half-packed and it felt like it was a full stadium,” Kyrgios said. “I got goosebumps toward the end.”