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