Sunday, November 23, 2008

Davis Cup musings, or "Ohhhh-ohhhh-ohhhh"

For the most part, I am a purist, but today, the zoo in Argentina gave me a major revelation about tennis.
First off, wow! Great doubles between Argentina's Agustin Calleri and David Nalbandian and Spain's Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco! It's not often that you can squander a 5-1 lead in any set. Nope, that only happens when it counts, and you really want to win.
But this is where my revelation comes in, the second off. In the third set, when the Argentinians came back to force the tiebreaker, and were leading 5-1, something happened that seemed to change the course of the set. Someone in the crowd shouted out just as Nalbandian was serving -- and he double-faulted. After that, the Spaniards ran away with it, and set point was played with the crowd going berserk, banging drums, playing trombones, hitting whatever was around.
In theory, Davis Cup is a chance for teams to play for their country. I believe they even invite tennis fans to attend. And they do. With band accessories. Anyway, that's what makes Davis Cup great. (What makes Davis Cup suck is the way it's organized. But I digress. For today. With great hesitance.) Yet, the umpires are shushing the fans like they're in fifth grade again. Sorry, but isn't that what tennis is missing -- excitement? So my question is, "Why is tennis the last sport that needs to be played in utter silence?"
Answer: It doesn't. For the four thousandth time, tennis is 99.921842% mental. That means that if some drunk fans want to scream bloody murder during your service motion, that shouldn't mean you drop your serve. For those of us who don't play in clubs every week, how many times has a car alarm begun blaring during your tennis game? Or a kid started crying? Or a cell phone began ringing? Or a flock of seagulls took flight overhead? And how many times has your foursome just stopped playing until there was complete silence? (If you guys did, I am wagging a severely punishing finger at you right now. Shame.)
The point is, it's time to stop insisting on silence in order to play tennis. It's the last sport to hold on to such an archaic standard. Can you imagine a football game being played as long as the fans keep their pieholes full of beer and hot dogs? In fact, attempts at breaking concentration in football is a common strategy among coaches. How about trying to "ice" a kicker just before he kicks a key field goal? It's sport, people. Not tea and crumpets.
The great thing about not playing the silence game during tennis is that it becomes more of a crowd event, which is one thing tennis needs to gain traction. Note: tennis does not need to change the way it plays tiebreaks or the doubles game in order to gain traction. It needs the little things -- letting Andy Roddick throw his racket if he's a little irritated about that missed volley. We know that for Andy, there will be many.
Point is, this is a small factor that could change the culture of tennis -- for good. Watch the Davis Cup matches this weekend. There is excitement that you don't see in Grand Slams. That should be encouraged. And as for players, it's time they learned to play through fan noise, as Lopez and Verdasco did.
So, what do you think? What could possibly be the downfalls of letting fans be more of an active part of tennis?


R.C. French said...

Hey Naf! Great post. I agree with you, tennis crowd etiquette could do with a bit of updating. I’m a big wrestling fan, and I’ve always thought that wrestling and tennis are incredibly similar. It’s colourful characters battling each other one on one, they’re practically identical. Anyway, in wrestling the crowd is allowed to make as much noise as they want. They cheer for the good guys, boo the bad guys, that kind of thing. Crowd participation is encouraged. But if you jump the guard rail and get in the ring, you’ll probably get hurt, so don’t do that. Also, if a fan throws their popcorn at a wrestler (usually a bad guy wrestler) the wrestler can yell “Get’em outta here!” and security will escort that person out of the arena.

So if tennis just takes an attitude similar to wrestling, everything will be great. The crowd can get involved vocally as much as they want. But if you jump on court, you’re fair game.

van said...

Love the last line there, R.C. French!

Hey Naf! Yeah, tennis can definitely do with a little more excitement like Davis Cup has. The fans at the regular tour stops just aren't as fervent as they used to be in the old days. Remember back in the old days when the Swedish fans really used to turn the crowd out? You definitely don't see anything like that, which was good for the game in its own way.

TopSpin said...

I think Im with you on this.
I'm not normally a great fan, but one redeeming factor of Davis Cup is the crowd involvement.

Provided things don't get ugly/hostile, its difficult not to enjoy the atmosphere.

Some would argue, as you do that that's exactly whats missing from the regular tour.

Its funny, but at Wimbledon this year (particularly in THAT final), we were treated to the unusual and somewhat bizzare sight of portly middle aged men in blazers out of their seats fist pumping (I kid you not) - definitely a move in the right direction if not quite in the way I imagined!

Naf said...

Wow, Rowan. I would have never made the tennis-wrestling connection. Hopefully, fans won't start throwing popcorn onto the courts. The players have a hard-enough time staying injury-free without stepping on a banana peel! :)