PARIS: The French Open men's final was held up by a flare-carrying protestor on Sunday, who came within just a few feet of defending champion Rafael Nadal, to demonstrate against France's same-sex marriage law.
The match between Nadal and David Ferrer was in the second set when a shirtless spectator, wearing a white mask, leapt from the stands and onto the court brandishing a flare before he was wrestled away by security officials.
The protestor had the words 'Childrens Rights' written across his chest in English.
The incident took place just in front of the VIP box on Court Philippe Chatrier where Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt and Hollywood superstar Leonardo DiCaprio were sitting.
“I felt scared at first,” admitted Nadal.
“I saw a guy with some fire. I say thanks to the security guys who did an amazing job and were very courageous.” Nadal went onto to win the final, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3, and become the first man to win the same Grand Slam title eight times.
Ferrer, who had been at the far side of the court, said he had been unconcerned over the incident.
“I didn't lose my focus,” said the 31-year-old, playing in his first major final.
He then added with a smile: “I think Rafa was a little scared.”Shortly before the flare-carrying spectator had burst onto the court, two other protestors, sitting high up in the stands, were ejected after holding up play by brandishing a banner with a slogan protesting the same sex marriage law that was voted into law last month amid widespread opposition.
An AFP journalist later saw four people, all aged around 20 years, being led away from the stadium by security agents.
“We are protesting against the Taubira law (authorising same-sex marriages) because we fear for the future of our children,” one of the four shouted out.
A French activist group called “Hommen”, who oppose same-sex marriage, later claimed responsibility for the protest.
“We will never give up defending the insitution of marriage and the future of our children. We will fight till the end,” the group said in a press statement.
A police spokesman later told AFP that 12 people had been arrested.
French Open tournament director Gilbert Ysern praised quick-thinking security staff as well as the reaction of the players.
“It is always regrettable,” said Ysern.
“It did not last long because we saw that our security immediately handled the situation.” He added:
“In sporting events, zero risk does not exist. We're doing everything we can to protect the event as much as possible. You can never completely avoid these things.”Ysern said he had apologised to Nadal and Ferrer.
“I had a word with them. They played it down,” he said.
“Now let's allow the police to do their job. We don't want to give these people publicity. They are fanatics who have no respect for players. It's appalling.”On the Suzanne Lenglen Court, in what was a co-ordinated demonstration, another protestor, also semi-naked and with a white mask, carried a banner demanding the resignation of French president Francois Hollande.
The second major court at Roland Garros was hosting fans who were watching the final on a giant TV screen.
Sunday's incident was similar to one that involved Roger Federer in his victorious 2009 final at Roland Garros against Robin Soderling.
On that occasion a serial sports event interferer, known as Jimmy Jump, leapt onto the court and ran up to Federer attempting to place a barretina hat on his head.