Andy Murray match in US disrupted by climate protesters throwing giant tennis balls onto court

Climate protests cause some tense-looking scenes in the stands during Andy Murray's match with Taylor Fitz at the Citi Open in Washington

Climate protests cause some tense-looking scenes in the stands during Andy Murray’s match with Taylor Fitz at the Citi Open in Washington – ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock/Eric Kayne

Climate protesters briefly interrupted Andy Murray’s last-16 clash with top seed Taylor Fritz at the Citi Open in Washington DC on Friday night.

Action was delayed in the first set when three jumbo tennis balls were tossed onto the court in the event’s main stadium, and Fritz later said he found the whole thing “annoying”.

In the stands, some people chanted and displayed signs protesting against the use of fossil fuels. About a dozen people were asked to leave the tournament and did so without incident, a spokesperson for the tournament said.

“I get they’re protesting, but there’s just got to be a better way to do it,” said Fritz, a 25-year-old from California who is No 9 in the ATP rankings.

“I don’t understand how people are going to get behind a cause when you’re ruining everyone else’s good time. Like, it doesn’t really make sense to me.

“It’s annoying, obviously, when they do it. It’s ruining everyone’s time. Everyone wants to watch the tennis. So I jokingly said, ‘Honestly, this makes me want to go fly on jets more.’

“I think, you know, they’re supporting a good cause, but the way they’re doing it, who’s going to want to listen when they’re just annoying everybody?”

Climate protesters threw jumbo tennis balls onto the court during Murray's match with Fitz in Washington

Climate protesters threw jumbo tennis balls onto the court during Murray’s match with Fitz in Washington – ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock/Eric Kayne

A spokesperson for the tournament said there was no damage done to the court.

At Wimbledon last month, three environmental activists were arrested after jumping out of the stands to disrupt matches by scattering orange confetti and puzzle pieces on the court.

When play resumed in Washington last night, Murray came up just short in a three-hour marathon against Fritz.

Murray, 36, who was runner-up in Washington 17 years ago, looked on the brink of another of his occasional statement wins since his comeback from hip surgery when he had break points for a 4-2 lead in the deciding set.

But Fritz, the American No 1, managed to repel all three and went on to wrap up his 40th win in 2023, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4.

Murray smashed his racket against the floor after dropping serve in the first game, throwing in two double-faults among six unforced errors.

The Scot had been a point away from a 3-0 deficit but improved as the set wore on and broke back for 5-5 as Fritz served for it, saving two set points before converting his first break point with a drop shot.

Murray dominated the tie-break with Fritz now showing his frustration, and he took the set after 87 minutes with an almost dismissive forehand winner.

But Fritz locked straight back in to break at the start of the second on his way to levelling the match.

Fritz survived those break points at 2-3 in the decider and then a Murray double-fault gifted the 25-year-old three chances to break, taking the second when Murray’s backhand drifted long.

In a dramatic final game, Murray brought up three break-back points at 40-0, Fritz survived the lot and then squandered two match points before converting the third.

Dan Evans had lost eight of his last nine matches before arriving in Washington but the British No 2 made it two wins in two by beating Russia’s Alexander Shevchenko 6-4, 6-3.

Meanwhile, top seed Jessica Pegula came from behind to beat Ukrainian Elina Svitolina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the women’s semi-finals.

The American fired a serve that Svitolina could not handle to end the high-quality contest and its riveting 54-minute third set.

Svitolina, who returned from maternity break in April and made the semi-finals of Wimbledon last month, dug deep to fend off two match points in her final service game but was unable to convert her break point opportunities in the deciding set.

Svitolina has produced stunning results including a win over world No 1 Iga Swiatek at the All England Club in July despite the turmoil caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“I have tons of respect for her,” Pegula said in an on-court interview. “She just had a baby, and with everything she is going through with her country, I told her I feel like she came back as a new person. I can see the competitiveness in her and I’ve always really respected that.”

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