Wimbledon groan the hallmark of an unforgiving crowd

Fans watch the play on outside courts at The All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon.
Fans watch the play on outside courts at The All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON • Tradition is as much a part of the Wimbledon experience as the grass itself, from the predominantly white clothing rule to the strawberries and cream sold around the grounds of the All England Club.

But this week, mixed in with the cheers will be one thing the world's leading tennis players do not appreciate quite so much: the Wimbledon groan.

"Urrrr". Low-pitched, almost tailing off at the end, it is a sigh of disappointment, of lost hope. "Urrrr".

Often after a double fault or a simple mistake, it can affect anyone, but seems louder and clearer when a home player misses on an important point.

"I hated that, I really hated that," said Pat Cash, the Australian who won Wimbledon in 1987.

"My sports psychologist actually worked with me on that. You make a mistake and everyone went, 'Urrr'."

Cash said he wanted to tell the crowd to shut up.

"Do you think I meant to serve a double fault? Thanks very much for reinforcing that bad feeling," he added.

The groan is not unique to Wimbledon. But it is more obvious there because, in contrast to the US Open, for example, it is much more common for the crowd to fall into silence before points begin.

The grass muffles the sound of the ball bounce, too, so when the "urrrr" comes, it is inescapable.

"I heard a lot of groans, a lot," said Pam Shriver, the former top-ranked doubles player, who is now an analyst with ESPN.

"It can be embarrassing, especially if it's on Centre Court."

For British players, the groan is an occupational hazard. In the 1990s, a Tim Henman match would not be complete without a few "urrrrs".

Henman, who reached a career-high ranking of No. 4 and made it to four Wimbledon semi-finals, was a common victim, the groans coming with double faults, forehands into the net or whenever he let go a ball that landed in.

Miles Maclagan, a former coach of Andy Murray, the current world No. 1, said Wimbledon could be a "lonely place if you get too many of the groans".

"I think even within the groan, there can be different attitudes or vibes to it," he added.

"In the past with Tim, unfortunately, it was sort of like, 'Oh, here we go again.' I think that attitude changed with Andy, and people expect to see him win now."

Jo Durie, the top-ranked British woman for much of a career that spanned from 1977 to 1995, won the mixed doubles title once at Wimbledon.

Now a commentator with Eurosport, she said the groan was tough to cope with, but stressed that the Wimbledon crowd was generally a big help for home players, always encouraging and usually desperate for them to do well.

Current players also struggle with the groan but Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka said he tried to see it as a positive thing.

"It's actually nice to see that the crowd is really into the match," he said. "Of course you are not happy at all after making an easy mistake, but it's not the crowd's fault.

"I think that tennis crowds in general are very respectful. We have great fans in our sport.

"We all make mistakes and when it looks easy, people can be surprised. Haven't we all done the same in front of our TV screens?"

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2017, with the headline 'Wimbledon groan the hallmark of an unforgiving crowd'. Print Edition | Subscribe