FORMER Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova was involved in a security scare this afternoon after a streaker invaded Centre Court.
The 19-year-old Russian looked shocked and then turned her back as Dutch DJ Sander Lantinga, 29, leapt out of the crowd behind the umpire.
His naked invasion came 39 minutes into Sharapova’s quarter final with Elena Dementiava when she was 3-0 up in the second set.
The millionaire tennis star immediately turned to face the back court netting as Lantinga did a dance and cartwheel just a few feet away, part of a stunt for a TV show called Try Before You Die.
It was a full 10 seconds before two court attendants eventually appeared with a red sheet to escort him away. Spectators in the 13,700 crowd cheered and applauded. But the Wimbledon authorities have launched a full investigation.
Sharapova later expressed concern about the invasion and the amount of time it took to get the intruder off court. Asked if she would be making a formal complaint to officials, she replied: “They have eyes. They saw it. I’m sure they know it’s a bit too long.”
In 1993, Monica Seles was stabbed between the shoulder blades while taking a rest break during a quarter final in Hamburg. That led to a review of security at tennis tournaments across the globe.
Although Lantinga made no attempt to approach Sharapova, he wandered alone on her side of the net between the service box and baseline, just a few steps away from the No 4 seed. Watching from the press seats, there was surprise at the time it took before any action was taken.
“Whatever happened, you can’t change anything,” Sharapova told me when I asked her about the incident at her post match press conference. “You guys wanted some entertainment during a women’s match – you got some.”
Having gone on to win the match, she told reporters: “It was real bizarre. Even more bizarre that it took 10 seconds for security to come out.”
Asked if she was frightened when she saw the man coming on to court, Maria replied: “No, not when you look at the security guards and they’re laughing. It’s hard to be frightened then – but I don’t know why they were laughing.
“I didn’t really look at the guy, thank God. I didn’t want to look at all the details – maybe next time I’ll take a look.”
As her game progressed, police and security staff went to Lantinga’s empty seat, a few rows back from the court, and took away various items. Among those watching from the royal box were Prince and Princess Michael of Kent and actress Dame Maggie Smith.
Sharapova later continued her own winning streak with a straight sets victory to book a place in the semi finals. She maintained the incident had not affected her concentration.
A spokesman for the All England Club confirmed security would be reviewed. “The security operation at Wimbledon starts outside the grounds with the X-ray searching of bags, electronic detector arches and body searching.
“Inside the grounds, while always the subject of close scrutiny, it is a tough compromise between containment and allowing the great views and closeness to the action that spectators have traditionally enjoyed.
“In this case, it was quickly apparent that the individual posed no threat to the players or the public and the incident was dealt with summarily and swiftly. We will nevertheless review procedures.”
A Scotland Yard spokesman said: “A man in his late 20s has been arrested for indecent exposure on Centre Court at the All England Lawn Tennis Club. He’s currently in custody at a south London police station.”