From the quiet of Wimbledon, the loud groan of the crowd

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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 when Wimbledon be­gins 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 ‘ur­rrr.’” 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 U.S. 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.” Shriver re­mem­bered her “big­gest groan.” It came in 1996 when she was play­ing Anke Hu­ber in the sec­ond round. “It was the last time I played af­ter 19 years of play­ing there, and I hit a dou­ble fault on match point,” Shriver said. “My sec­ond serve, I was serv­ing up the sunny end, it caught the top of my frame and it landed in my ser­vice box. On Cen­tre Court, the last point of my Wimbledon sin­gles ca­reer. Oh, yeah, I heard it big time.” 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 ca­reer­high rank­ing of No. 4 and made it to four Wimbledon semi­fi­nals, 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.” Shriver said she did not consider the groan to be that neg­a­tive. “I just con­sid­ered that they were cheer­ing for you and it was their way of say­ing, ‘I’m sorry,’” she said. “But you hated hear­ing it twice in a row.” Jo Durie, the top-ranked Bri­tish woman for much of a ca­reer that spanned from 19771995, won the mixed dou­bles ti­tle once at Wimbledon. Durie, a com­men­ta­tor with Eurosport, said the groan was tough to cope with. Es­pe­cially when things are go­ing wrong in a match, she said, “you’d like a lit­tle bit of a lift from the crowd, not to hear that sigh, or tut­ting.” Mark Petchey, the Bri­tish No. 1 for a time in the 1990s, who was Mur­ray’s first coach as a pro­fes­sional, said, “You can kind of smile about it now, but it def­i­nitely erodes your self-con­fi­dence at times when you hear that noise.” He added that the groan “mag­ni­fied by 10 that it was a ter­ri­ble shot.” It was dif­fi­cult to block out, and, Petchey said, “I heard it a lot.” “I guess cer­tain play­ers out there have dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and can prob­a­bly say: ‘Well, you guys don’t know what you’re talk­ing about, so it wasn’t such a bad miss,’” he said. “I was un­for­tu­nately on the other side and thought: ‘Yeah, yeah, you guys were spot on. That was shock­ing.’” Durie, Petchey and Ma­cla­gan stressed that the Wimbledon crowd was gen­er­ally a big help for home play­ers, al­ways en­cour­ag­ing and usu­ally des­per­ate for them to do well. Cash, once he had fig­ured it out, felt the same. He said his sports psy­chol­o­gist had told him, “Mate, ev­ery­one just wants you to win.” “And I was like: ‘Oh, that’s a good point as well. I feel bet­ter about that now.’” Cur­rent play­ers also strug­gle. Switzer­land’s Belinda Ben­cic, a for­mer ju­nior Wimbledon cham­pion who was ranked in­side the world’s Top 10 just 18 months ago be­fore suf­fer­ing wrist in­juries, said she ex­pe­ri­enced it a lot. “They do it a lot be­cause I dou­ble-fault a lot,” she said. “That’s hor­ri­ble, and you’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, you do it your­self, right?’ But also it’s nice when you hit a huge winner and ev­ery­one goes crazy.” 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. For those with hopes of win­ning the ti­tle, the groan may be some­thing that hap­pens to other peo­ple, said Greg Rused­ski, a for­mer Bri­tish No. 1 who is a Eurosport com­men­ta­tor. “If you look at Roger, I don’t think he ever gets groaned at,” Rused­ski said, re­fer­ring to seven-time Wimbledon cham­pion Roger Fed­erer. “He prob­a­bly hits the most beau­ti­ful dou­ble fault any­way, so they still clap.”


Kaza­khstan’s Alexan­der Bub­lik played Bri­tain’s Andy Mur­ray at the Wimbledon Ten­nis Cham­pi­onships in Lon­don on Mon­day.

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