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Competitors and Performers 07/03/2007 - 10:55 AM


Mornin', folks. During a brief break in the rain, I finally went out to Centre Court for the first time since the roof was ripped off. Unfortunately, the sun was so bright - yes, believe it - that I could barely see anything. This right off the bat was a shocker: I never realized the extent to which the roof line served as a border between sky and stadium, much like a black outline serves to add definition to a child's simple, coloring-book picture.

The old, dark roof, while neither very long nor significantly pitched served to throw the entire upper half of the small stadium into shadow, increasing that sense of separation and heightening the contrast that made Centre Court seem so dramatic. The roof was the donut through which the sun, when you had it, shined like a spotlight. I'd like to have a painter's opinion (not a house painter, either; I mean one one of those intense bourgeoisie rebel dudes from Brooklyn) about all this, but it seems that contrast increases intensity and focus - are you listening, David Nalbandian, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marat Safin?

Anyway, Jon Wertheim and I dropped in on the battle between Amelie Mauresmo and Nicole Vaidisova. A little later, Charlie Bricker joined us. Mauresmo was way ahead in the first-set tiebreaker (6-3), I believe, but Vaidisova clubbed her way back into it. At times, Vaidisova can look awfully good, and now she's added to her repertoire a new grunt. In a world full of shriekers who sound an awful lot like banshees, she does a two-part grunt - ah- oooouy!  - that sounds like an actual word.

The capacity of the Centre Court is 13,791; but with the roof gone it seems a lot smaller - too small, it seemed to me, and perhaps to you watching on television as well. From what I see on my press-room monitor, one aspect of the hatless venue is that you now see an awful lot of sky - not necessarily a bad thing, although it does tend to diminish the significance of two or four figures scampering around on the greensward, like a couple of nurses looking for a hemostat. I like nature, so I wouldn't ordinarily mind this kind of set-up. But when you're actually in the stadium, the upper edge, although reasonably finished off, is uneven, irritating and troublesome. You'd think somebody had blown off the entire upper half of the stadium, an image that sits uneasy at the moment in London.

However, all that sky, filled with scudding layers of clouds ranging from dazzling white in the upper atmosphere to pewter below is impressive in a distinctly British way. Altogether, it's like a painting by Turner - until the ceiling closes down and the skies turn simply gray  - as they soon did.

Vaidisova fought off a few set points and won the tiebreaker. Although Mauresmo battled back to take the second set, Vaidisova closed her out decisively. Mauresmo is a truly puzzling player, and the way she surrendered her title today made me think that, contrary to my feelings of a year ago, she hasn't really changed much at all. She plays a tournament like a hurdler who's earned the right to run in the Olympic Games and wakes up on the morning of the semifinal heat to discover that they raised the obstacles by a good 12 inches. She makes easy shots look difficult and challenging ones appear a piece of cake; but there isn't a shot she can't flub when making it really counts.

More and more, I think you can divide the players into two distinct categories: the performers and the competitors. The performers are far less predictable, and they have a perverse appeal because you can't trust them as far as you can throw them. They are human tennis roller coasters, inviting you to hop aboard. If you like drama - in someone else's life, if not your own - you can't go wrong with the performers. They probably care about winning as much as the competitors do, but not to the point where they're actually willing to do anything about it. Winning, actually winning, just isn't that important to them, bad as they may feeling about losing.

The competitors, by contrast, care only about winning, and I'm surprised more people have not remarked that one reason they tend to be less "creative" or "inventive" than the performers is because they are driven by a higher purpose than making a pretty or impressive shot. I don't mean that in the micro-cosmic sense, either. Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova play the way they do because their strokes and strategies were shaped and honed on the competitor's lathe. Then you have Roger Federer, Justine Henin and Serena Williams, who are who are performers trapped in competitor's minds and bodies - much to their good fortune.

Reviewing the Comments in the Serena's Movable Feast entry this morning, I was struck by a few things in the debate over gamesmanship and sportsmanship in general. I had no doubt then or now about the legitimacy of Serena's injury, and to some degree everything that transpired afterwards was driven by that occurrence. I realized late last night that I neglected to write how the bathroom brouhaha actually ended, with Serena forgetting her need of the moment. That, to me, was a comment on her determination and focus, rather than the smoking gun demonstrating that her desire to relieve herself was some kind of sneaky attempt at gamesmanship.

I like to think I have a healthy respect for sportsmanship and impeccable behavior, but one of the compelling things about tennis is that it can be - and at the best of times, often is - a war out there. And anybody who thinks war isn't full of surprises, shocks, inexplicable actions and, in general, chaos, doesn't know much about war.

Everyone, I think, would like to win pretty, with surgical precision. Tennis is a war game, made palatable to us through the enforced (and basically perverse) set of rules we establish. We want it both ways. We want a war, but we want it to be fought in a modulated, socially acceptable, convention-bound format - like tennis. And usually that's what happens, and we can walk away from a Nadal-Federer or Williams-Henin match feeling like we just watched something we can feel good about, although why exactly we want to watch two players have at it each other until one clearly subjugates the other is something we don't often ask ourselves.

The saving grace of a match like the Williams-Hantuchova affair yesterday is that it ripped away that cozy veneer of acceptability, yet not in distasteful or ugly way. And just as we do not know quite how to react when it really is war, as opposed to clean, tidy, pretend war, we are discomfited by the visceral realities of the battlefield. It's important to understand that when it comes to real war, even on a tennis court, the victor is going to be the party who knows that there is no place in the midst of all this chaos for hesitation, indecision, or passivity. You throw your heart and soul into it; you fight until you're killed off and there isn't a danged thing that matters. Nobody, but nobody, goes into a tennis match hoping it becomes a war; wars are bad for everyone involved. But once you're in one, you had better act like a warrior or you're going to wind up just a casualty. Hence expressions like, Whatever it takes. . .Stuff happens. . .lead, follow, or get out of the way.

I like tennis for the same reason I like boxing. It's a showdown. Sometimes a well-orchestrated fight becomes an all-out brawl, and when that happens my sympathies are with the combatant who throws him or herself into the fire instead of shrinking from it. And that's where the line between the competitor and performer sometimes becomes most conspicuous. I prefer the competitors to the performers. I had no second thoughts about Serena yesterday (although I've had plenty of them in the past), and no interest in dissecting her toilet habits.

But then,  I put a higher premium on courage than almost any other quality, even though sometimes courage isn't pretty. To me, though, it's always prettier than the alternatives.

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Posted by Celia 07/03/2007 at 11:05 AM

First!(I think)

Posted by Celia 07/03/2007 at 11:06 AM

Yay!! I was first! There's a first time for everything!

Posted by Beckham 07/03/2007 at 11:09 AM

Can we not even talk about Momo...pffttt...unfreakingbelieve 6-1 in the 3rd set...defending champion...and it wasn't like she was outplayed so you'd say too good...she apparently didn't play well at all...pfffttt

Performers trapped in competitor's bodies...interesting...I am mighty glad though that Fed is not a head case....well except on

Posted by Andrew 07/03/2007 at 11:09 AM

Pete, you write: "Sometimes a well-orchestrated fight becomes an all-out brawl, and when that happens my sympathies are with the combatant who throws him or herself into the fire instead of shrinking from it. And that's where the line between the competitor and performer sometimes becomes most conspicuous."

Fair enough. But there's still a spectrum, between the sometimes correct to a fault caricature of the English gentleman type of player, who'd rather lose than commit any kind of social solecism, and the I'll-do-anything-anything!-to-win-show-me-an-ear-and-my-teeth-are-ready caricature.

It all evens out over time, which is why John McEnroe and Chis Evert are both luminaries in good standing at Wimbledon. But during their playing careers, the approaches these players had towards how they comported themselves was extremely different.

And we don't live twenty years into the future, we live now. I admire the fighting spirit and the reserves of will Serena Williams showed to pull out, Houdini-like, from near certain defeat (once again!). But in doing so, she was stepping right up to the line, if not over it, in respecting her opponent. You (and others) might think that admirable, but you're not bring me with you.

Posted by Pete 07/03/2007 at 11:18 AM

I understand that position Andrew, but there's a situational aspect to this kind of thing too, and I probably wasn't able to nail it with words in the entry. Serena could have lost me, but she didn't, and nothing she did under the circumstances in play seemed venture close as close to the line of bad sportsmanship as lka calculated, well-timed "I just lost the second set, time to re-group" bathroom break.

Posted by temes 07/03/2007 at 11:19 AM

"she was stepping right up to the line, if not over it, in respecting her opponent".

I don't know what the hail are you talking about. Can you elaborate? The Daniela match? Are you saying she faked her injury? What are you saying?

Posted by The Original French(ie) 07/03/2007 at 11:21 AM

Roddick-PHM on court commented by boom boom becker! I still can't muster what Amélie did today, because it was ALL of her doing. It's perhaps a turning point (and not a good one at that)

arg, just can't believe it, I am so angry (not even sad just angry) right now.

Mathieu to serve.

Posted by temes 07/03/2007 at 11:22 AM

Aaaah Andrew still thinks Serena was cheating with the bathroom break. Andrew, I know you are intelligent enough to carefully rewatch those points in the matchs and interpret Serenas facial expressions and the dialog with the umpire to see it was clearly genuine that she needed to use the bathroom.

Posted by ptenisnet 07/03/2007 at 11:24 AM

What aspect of serena's actions yesterday were coming close to disrespecting to her opponent?

Posted by Ruth 07/03/2007 at 11:37 AM

Pete: That's a magnificent piece. I loved the points you made about boxing and tennis. Many years ago, when HBO was the only "premium" channel availble, my husband and I subscribed to it just for the chance for me to see Wimbledon and for both of us to enjoy the boxing matches.

Incidentally, over the years, I've read aa great deal about the earlier form of tennis, and (on HBO again), I happened to catch an episode of the program on Henry VIII in which a tennis match from that era was shown. Talk about war! Although I am able to asppreciate tennis in all its forms, I couldn't help wondering how tennis evolved (?) from that into the so-called gentleman's game of the 20th century and the kind of pretty stuff which some posters seem to long for when they criticize the tough, hard-hitting, go-for-broke players whom I enjoy watching.

Small point: The hatless Center Court actually looks much bigger to me than it did in the past. In fact, it now reminds me more of the incredibly large Penn State football stadium than it does anything else.

OK, back to the current Roddick-Mathieu war on Center Court in which Andy is, I hope, about to draw first blood. :)

Posted by Andrew 07/03/2007 at 11:42 AM

temes: no, that's not what I was thinking. Nothing that I wrote mentioned cheating, and I also don't see how you decided I was refering to the "bathroom" conversation.

With respect to that specific circumstance, I think the jury's still out. In her initial discussion with the umpire, Williams wa very emphatic about the urgency of her need, but was told that she could only leave when it was her turn to serve. In the next game, she broke Hantuchova, and took the next game on her own serve. Big momentum swing, obviously. One can argue either way about whether Williams was "in the moment" or didn't want to allow Hantuchova off the hook, so was prepared to bear with the discomfort.

For me, it's more the whole package - the way the "exhalations" come on some points and not on others, and (in particular) the clenched fist snarl at an opponent.

To be completely clear, I don't see any of this as cheating. I see it as a form of gamesmanship. I can applaud the ferocious will to win, and I genuinely do. Some of the tactics used to get there, which I genuinely see as being within the player's control, leave a slightly bitter taste in the mouth, for me at least. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Posted by temes 07/03/2007 at 12:03 PM

The simple reason why Serena didn't use the bathroom break at 4-2 was because she didn't understand the umpire! Look at her expressions at 4-2, she is 100% confused. And what's more, at 5-2 changeover she asked again to use the bathroom and the umpire denied her and told her why and Serena clearly said "oh I must have misunderstood you". I mean, there it is, the simple explanation. No weird conspiracies of how Serena planned this all along and lied to the umpire that she misunderstood him, these are such long shots! I haven't come close to anytthing this long shottingness ever. Absolutely hilarious. Maybe you believe Bush blew up the WTCs, that makes a hell lot of sense to you.

Serena still though the rule of bathroom breaks during changeovers was valid, as she said to the umpire"I didn't know cause I haven't been around that much"(unless she plotted and lied about that too). And after the changeovers in this match in the third set it always happened to be Hantcuhovas serve. So it is absolutely ridiculous to critisize Serena just because she asked for a potty break, what would have been a more appropriate situation for her than to ask during the changeover, since she didn't know about the rule? There was no better situations for her to ask for a bathroom break, so basically you are just accusing Serena of wanting to go to the bathroom. What's the point with bathroom breaks if you can't ask for them and have a bunch of crazy folks accusing you to be a bad sport every single time a player asks for a bathroom break? Because if you accuse Serena to be a bad sport in this case, you would have to accuse all the possible bathroom breaks in the world to be gamesmanship, and this is even in the least probable end of being gamesmanship. What's more, there is the little fact that she had been drinking like hell before the match continued.

Great article Pete.

Posted by sandra 07/03/2007 at 12:08 PM

What an amazing level of idiocy this "bathroom break" discussion has become. It essentially boils down to a belief that Serena cheated because she did not take a bathroom break (since in the end she didn't, did she?). Keep debating until Jesus returns whether or not she really needed to go - you're serving an essential world purpose in so doing.

Posted by temes 07/03/2007 at 12:19 PM

Sandra, why can't one debate about stupid things if one wants? Does everything have to serve an essential world purpose in your little distressed world?

Posted by Laser19406 07/03/2007 at 12:20 PM

Sandra! Too funny! lol! Good post Pete! Do you think Daniella falls into the performer category? Just a LITTLE bit? HA!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Matt Zemek 07/03/2007 at 12:35 PM


If you were writing about politics and the US Congress, the words "competitor" and "performer" would be translated to "workhorse" and "show horse."

Some people are in it for the right reasons and understand their central tasks and missions. Others want to look pretty and find the trappings of success without paying the price or making necessary compromises along the way.

A brilliant and essential piece of sportswriting from your keyboard, as per usual.

Posted by Sam 07/03/2007 at 12:35 PM

Pete: Good post. While I admire the Competitors, I tend to find the Performers to be the most entertaining to watch. Ideally you have players who are strong in both areas, like Federer and Henin, but I can enjoy a player whose game I enjoy even if they don't do well on the big stage. After all, for the fan, isn't tennis entertainment?

Posted by Nancy J 07/03/2007 at 12:51 PM

"I prefer the competitors to the performers"

After my "Die Hard" comments of yesterday, you know I really loved this post, Pete. It goes to what I've felt is the heart of the game since I first started watching as a wee girl in 1971!

I too prefer the competitors. Afterall, I'm a (semi)KAD for Chrissie Evert, whose game at times could be humdrum in terms of excitement, but right there in terms of doing what had to be done in order to (as Big Al would say) "just win baby!" And I also think of Jimmy Connors who did the emotional equivalent of bleeding his guts out right there on court in order to overcome his opponents!

On the other hand, my favorite "performer" to this day was Rosie Casals, who could hit every wacky and entertaining shot in the book with her sweet ability with a stick, but never had the mental ability to go for the kill! I loved watching her play, but I would have never bet my allowance on her!

As for today, while I do not enjoy watching the power players per se (Shrieky, Vaidisova, etc), if they're winning....who can knock them?!

Still, my favorite three women players to watch and root for are Super Woman/Warrior Princess Serena, Jelena "The Pitbull when I'm not choking" Jankovic, and The Mighty Midget Henin, because they have that mix of competitors mindset while remaining "performers."

Yep, at the end of the day, my heart and money is always behind the broads and dudes that DIE HARD and ain't afraid to cut their opponents throats when given an oppportunity!

If only James Blake had that mindset... At the moment, Blake is dead to me!

Posted by skip1515 07/03/2007 at 01:09 PM

Pete, my impression of the roofless Centre Court is just the opposite of yours, as seen on a television, anyway. It appears much bigger. I've had the good fortune to sit there, and it never seemed like a stadium to me; as you say, the roof focused attention on the "hole in the middle" and the greensward (!) therein. I hope the new construction brings back that sense of intimacy.

I was there in '97, when the rains forced them to play on middle Sunday. At that time the roof helped protect those under it from the showery conditions (to add another term for rain to Rosangel's list this morning). My travelling partner didn't believe me when I said we should go at 3 AM to join the queue, or simply didn't want to get up that early. We ended up joining 7,000 others around 9:30 AM.

The queue snaked around Wimbledon Park without benefit of rope-and-stanchion, or any direction from club members or tournament officials. My friend couldn't help but comment, repeatedly, that if this happened in NYC there'd be chaos. At one point a club member walked by, his hands folded behind his back, his feet clad in Wellies. He offered no new information. Gene said the NY crowds would have torn him limb from limb, and then eaten him.

I, too, watched Mauresmo battle under the changeable conditions (another perfect British term for the weather), and cringed at her inability to harness her skills and talents. In another post I suggested that Federer's tournament record may really be his 2nd most impressive feat. The first is, quite possibly, his having tamed his incredible performer capabilities in making himself a competitor and not the 2nd coming of Nastase.

Posted by Christopher 07/03/2007 at 01:25 PM

Back on court, to an accompaniment of thunder. Vamos Rafa!!!

Posted by Christopher 07/03/2007 at 01:26 PM

Sorry, meant to put that last on the crisis center thread.

Posted by Miguel Seabra 07/03/2007 at 01:52 PM

Fascinating theme, Pete -- the performers vs the competitors... and great read.

Regarding the Centre Court, my first impression was «This feels and looks like the Louis Armstrong Stadium!».

A couple of days later, I was talking to Carlos Ramos, the portuguese umpire that officiated Federer's first match this year at Wimbledon -- you know, the traditional first match on Centre Court on the first day as the champion of the previous year. And I told Carlos what I had felt on my first time at the roofless Centre Court.

So, Carlos told me that he felt the same thing right away when he entered the court; then, at the usual chat before his first match, he was talking to Federer and the swiss was saying «this feels strange» -- so, Carlos told him «doesn't it feel like the Louis Armstrong Stadium?», to what Federer responded «exactly!».

So, there you go -- a taste of Queens in Queen's land!

Posted by david 07/03/2007 at 02:12 PM

so asking to go to the bathroom is gamesmanship? Clenching your fist and yelling cmon is gamesmanship? Then nadal,Sharapova, Henin must also be accused of gamsemanship too. cuz they do it a lot. In fact Sharapova was up 60 53 or something and was still doing it.
Also, did Serena asking to go to the bathroom cause Hantuchova to lose serve? If so then why is it fair for Hantuchova to always turn her back between every point? doesn't that also break her opponents concentration. Also, why is Nadal allowed to take so much time between serve? that also breaks his opponents concentration. So essentially anythign that breaks your opponents concentration is gamesmanship? so if I'm playing I always have to think about whether or not my actions are disturbing the concentration of my opponent? it seems ridiculous to accuse Serena of gamesmanship over something as little as asking to go to the bathroom. not even going, just asking. And also accuse her of gamesmanship cuz she pumps herself up. If she's not allowed to pump herself up then hantuchova is not allowed to turn her back after every point and Justine is not allowed to yell Allez all the time, etc.

Posted by joe_can_bike 07/03/2007 at 02:29 PM

Some players wear their heart on their sleeves, some don't. I don't think outward emotion is a reliable indicator of effort or desire. The most interesting players to me are those that can distill all the sound & fury on the inside into the perfectly executed slice backhand, feathered volley, or line-kissing forehand. That is the brilliance of tennis - simultaneously balancing the dualities of intensity & calm, power & precision, head & heart. The best master it, but most players careen between one side or the other.

Posted by Samantha 07/03/2007 at 02:54 PM

My last comments on this topic, Serena did absolutely nothing which disrespected Dani, nor were any of her actions gamesmanship. Here's what happen, Serena had to go after all the fluids she drank, she asked the referee, he declined, and she politely said no problem. Now if all the conspiracy seekers have a problem with that, then what can you say. Also, how does Serena asking to go to the bathroom influence how Dani plays? Go Justine!

Posted by Marian 07/03/2007 at 02:55 PM

This theme reminds me of what Sampras was once credited saying that sounds like this: "I don't like winning as much as I hate losing".

Posted by Megan 07/03/2007 at 02:56 PM

Beautifully said, joe_can_bike

Posted by svelterogue 07/03/2007 at 03:26 PM

this sounds dramatic and maybe something along the lines of a "performer" as pete puts it, but my mind didn't scream gamesmanship when i watched serena battle through the third set. (trivia: i was near tears while watching her writhing in agony while the umpire trainer and opponent looked on quizzically) i drink tons of liquids and when i sense that a sacred moment is at hand, i find that extra gear that tells me i can hold it in just for this one time, as it prolly felt when serena was up 5-2 in the third.

the whole time serena come on-ed her way to victory, i was screaming, temes!!! temes!!! this is your moment! go serena! :)

Posted by svelterogue 07/03/2007 at 03:37 PM

at the end of the day, i am one with nancy j, temes, david, and samantha on this serena thing. i love serena and the way she plays.

bugger that jelena went down meekly to bartoli of generous midsection, and wow, now on wimbledon today they are dissecting how amelie basically stretched her arms to the sky and said, "nicole, lemme give you a hug a bottle of vintage red and this match as defending champ." arrrrggghhhhh amelie!!!!!

Posted by The Original French(ie) 07/03/2007 at 03:39 PM

...[Then you have Roger Federer, Justine Henin and Serena Williams, who are who are performers trapped in competitor's minds and bodies - much to their good fortune.]

I absolutely agree Pete, it's this combination which makes them fascinating to watch: being only a performer (a clown sometimes ?) is not enough and is utterly disappointing in the long run while being just a competitor (for the actual love of $$$$) is in my opinion not of the highest moral order and makes it difficult to root or admire these kind of players.

The only thing is that I would add RAFA in the list above along the Fed, Justine and Serena!

Still, for the moment: VIVE Robin Söderling!

Posted by Samantha 07/03/2007 at 04:01 PM

Temes, you would love it, ESPN is all Serena, all the time.

Posted by Scott 07/03/2007 at 04:20 PM

Great post Pete. Sometimes when you look at the competitors in a do or die moment, the level of their intensity and focus can awe inspiring and even frightening. I think Dani got a little firghtened watching Serena will herself to win. Even greats sometimes falter in the face of such will -- think Lendl not knowing what to do in the face of Michael Chang's refusal to fold.

On the gamesmanship and bathroom break issue -- well I think Temes has answered that issue much better than I can. If people want to continue believing it was gamesmanship, its only because they really want to believe it was gamesmanship.

Posted by Kate 07/03/2007 at 04:26 PM

I think Serena addressed the bathroom break in her press conference and as Mary-Jo said now she doesn't want to go because she doesn't want to break the momentum. Serena willed herself to win that match yesterday, apparently she has a small tear in her calf muscle all I can say is ouch, Serena I salute you!

Posted by Ruth 07/03/2007 at 04:29 PM

I would be much happier if the screams, shrieks, and grunts of some players were not as constant as they are. The idea that one has to scream on EVERY point during long patches of a match or from beginning to end of the match bothers me.

That is why I find your criticism of loud "exhalations" (which can naturally accompany great effort) "on some points or not on others" very strange. The whole point, to me, is that the degree of the effort one has to put forth varies from one point to another in match, so I would expect and prefer to see players being being selective about their loud "exhalations."

That makes more sense to me than constant loud noises with every serve or stroke. I can understand why some people feel that unending noises, even on easy or minor points, are intended to distract or annoy the opponent, mask the sound of the ball coming off the racket and so on -- even when they aren't.

Posted by Sahadev 07/03/2007 at 04:54 PM

Performers: Nalbandian, Safin, Schnyder. I have absolutely had it with Nalbandian now.

Baghdatis is an interesting case. He seems to fit the prototype of the performer perfectly, but the fact that he goes deep in Slams so often points to mental strength. Maybe he just needs a big occasion to perform...

Posted by Andrew 07/03/2007 at 04:56 PM

Ruth: happy to clarify.

Someone with a better grasp of tennis history than me may be able to place it earlier than I can, but to my recollection Monica Seles was the first high ranking tennis player to punctuate each groundstroke with a loud exhaled breath.

This was, believe it or not, extremely controversial at the time. In 1992 she played her first and only Wimbledon Final, losing to Graf 6-2 6-1. Seles distinctly cut down on the "grunts" during the match, which several observers felt might have contributed to her comparatively poor performance.

Fast forward to 2007, and exhaling, grunting or yelping - call it what you will - is par for the course. I, personally, don't like it much, but of course no-one consulted me, chiz chiz...

Now, if people grunt on every shot, I understand the argument that it may make it harder for the opponent to hear the sound of the ball coming off the strings. But it seems to me that that horse has left the stable. That would be something to address by a rule change, and I don't think that's at all likely. So now, both by norm and by rule, players can freely yelp or grunt when they hit the ball.

Also, as players get tired at the end of a long rally, or make an extra exertion to make a shot at full extension, there might be a louder yelp. OK, fair enough.

What I see happening is players adjusting their volume, at least in my opinion, according to the match score - an important point, or a turning point in the match. And to me, that's not on. Changing what you do because the score is different to me is a willed act, where you're doing it to affect the opponent.

It's a fine line, because one could argue that players will put extra effort into key points. I guess that's where some of us are going to differ - I hear players really cranking up the volume, and see it as a ploy to distract or intimidate the opponent. It's possible that's it's unconcious or subconcious, but it comes across (to me at least) as crossing the line into gamesmanship.

Posted by Samantha 07/03/2007 at 05:05 PM

Nancy, "The mighty midget Henin". Nancy, Justine is 5'5 which is average for most woman. I know you didn't mean it has an insult, but Justine used to be called a "dwarf" in this blog. I just think she deserve a nickname that gives her the respect she has earned. Go Justine!

Posted by Andrew 07/03/2007 at 05:06 PM

Sahadev: lessee - performers:

Men - Gasquet, Ljubicic, Safin, Verdasco, Soderling.
Women - Dementieva, Myskina, Schnyder, Mauresmo, Hantuchova


Men - Nadal, Federer, Hewitt, Ferrer, Canas
Women - Williams, Williams, Henin, Sharapova

Posted by Samantha 07/03/2007 at 05:12 PM

Change woman to women.

Posted by Nancy J 07/03/2007 at 05:14 PM

Andrew and Ruth and all, didn't Seles (and her fans) get ticked because some fellow WTA players complained about her loud banshee shreech during Wimbie 1992?

Don't Seles KADSs to this day blame Martina Navratilova because she said that the loud Seles grunt was drowning out the sound of the ball hitting off of the strings, and may be gamesmanship (since that's a word in high use these days)?! Therefore, Monica made an extra effort to keep her sounds lower for that final?

All I know is that I had the kids turn on ESPN last night, and before I could see who was playing I heard a louch screech and thought surely it was a Shrieky replay. To my absolute surprise, it was Venus! Tennis is going to hail in a sound basket!

I think its the Bollittieri influence! Two months ago on TTC on one of those how to play shows, some guy formly of NBA, said that EVERY player of every level should add the grunt to improve their game! You gotta be kiddin me! Acck!

Posted by Sahadev 07/03/2007 at 05:19 PM

Andrew, yes, those seem about right, except for Ljubicic - he has an efficient game, but his movement hurts him. I'd also put Blake, Malisse, Youzhny and Monfils in the "performer" category, also Roddick and Djokovic in the "competitor" category. I wonder where Murray and Gulbis and del Potro will end up...

On the women's side, I think Dementieva is really a fierce competitor. With the kind of serve she has, I doubt she'd be in the top 50 without fighting spirit.

Posted by Matt Zemek 07/03/2007 at 05:50 PM

Miguel and Skip:

The roofless Centre Court reminds me of the old arena in Phoenix, Arizona, my hometown: Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the former home of the Phoenix Suns.

The Coliseum--and there are several other old (1960s) arenas like it across the United States--has seating sections that go high up on the sidelines (of a basketball court or hockey rink configuration), but are fairly low at the ends of the building.

The upper bowl of Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium is like this as well.

Centre Court shares this basic configuration. At the north and ESPECIALLY the South ends, the seats don't go very high. But wow, I'm amazed at the extent to which the seats soar on the east and west sides. The low-hanging roof substantially concealed the large amount of seats on the sides of the building, and I miss the dramatic, shaded, slanting-shadow look of the world's most famous tennis court. Next year will be a treat, and I think the ridiculous rain is God's way of saying that Centre Court was meant to have a roof. Without a roof, Wimbledon doesn't feel like Wimbledon; this tournament won't be remembered for the tennis. If there was ever a year for this to happen, why not with a naked Centre Court.

It's weirdly appropriate, in a number of ways.

Posted by ptenisnet 07/03/2007 at 06:11 PM

I am not sure I put Youzhny in the performer category.

Posted by Ruth 07/03/2007 at 06:42 PM

Andrew: Thanks for your response. Monica Seles is a longtime favorite of mine, and I loved her INSPITE OF the fact that I didn't like her constant grunting at all. In fact, I was thinking of players like her when I talked about the constant noises and players like Sharapova when I referred to shrieks which do not even sound like exhalations of air associated with great physical effort.

Yes, Nancy. A few of Monica's opponents (including Capriati) actually complained during matches, and some fans got angry about it. I never did. I never understood why the WTA didn't do more to stop the practice or lessen it. I think that umpires should be able to be trusted to make the distinction between natural and understandable occasional sounds (exhalations) from a player and excessive noise. The occasional scream of joy/excitement at a great winner or point is great, but screams after every point or stroke...I don't think so.

I believe that the WTA's failure to do anything has caused a whole generation of players to grow up thinking that the kinds of noises that would sound strange coming from boxers, baseball hitters etc should be part of their game -- from beginning to end. I wonder if the players who don't make or don;t like these incessant noises have complained formally to the officials. If they haven't, maybe it doesn't bother them as much as one might think it does.

I feel the same way about the problems that players supposedly have with Nadal's habits. Today, Darren Cahill was talking with Chris Fowler and Brad Gilbert about the "dustup" with Rafa and Soderling. Cahill said that he was happy to see Soderling challenging Rafa about his delays of the game, the way he doesn't ever get up and go to the court first etc etc etc. He said that "all of us" have been talking about it and the players in the lockerroom have been talking and complaining about it for years. So, why don't the players make official complaints and demand that the 20- or 25-second rules be enforced by the ATP via the umpires?

Posted by Sahadev 07/03/2007 at 06:47 PM

It's true, some players do morph from being performers to competitors. It happened to Federer, and it's happening to a lesser extent with Youzhny. A couple of players have remarked on how Youzhny plays great in practice but his performances don't translate to match situations... That's less true now than two years back.

Posted by Matt Zemek 07/03/2007 at 07:05 PM


It's amazing how common sense is so often ignored by adult authority figures who should know better.

The chair umpires can count seconds, and they can make appropriate and timely decisions. No one's stopping them.

Soderling acted like a kindergartener. He should just politely make the request to the chair.

I finally got to see the actual incident, and it looked much worse than outraged Rafa fans portrayed it (if that's possible). The Swede, by picking his butt the way he did, made a total rear end of himself. Way beyond the pale.

Posted by achilles190 07/03/2007 at 08:20 PM

Great cogent post Pete ...... especially your distinction between competitor and performer and ROger Federer as a competitor trapped in a performers body......Personally Ifeel ROgers is a ninja assassin trapped in a performers body....but either way a stark competitor nonetheless......

With Amelie Mauresmo.....I am reminded of one of the quotes you used regarding Roger Federer.....something to the effect of tennis is more the result of a supremely confident mind rather than great storkes......huge paraphrase on my part....

With Amelie Mauresmo....I love to woatch her play love the energy she exudes.......and my mind cannot not take passionaltely rooting for her ....instead I have to take the stance that Amelie is Amelie beautful in win or defeat....I always know that I will be entertained mesmerized astounded by her win or lose and see great shots.......and I accept it ...As I alluded to my nerves and heart cannot take passionaltely rooting for her ......although I always am delighted when she wins.......

Posted by sally 07/03/2007 at 08:26 PM

venus and serena are much louder than monica seles ever was.,

good to see soderling take it to nadal. nadal's delaying tatics are very tiring, and it seems nadal can dish it out but he can't take it.

Posted by CL 07/03/2007 at 09:09 PM

Ruth and Matt - Well I think it is just a no win situation for a player who complains about another player's 'tactics' even if they do involve technical violaitons of the rules. Put yourself in the average player's place facing Nadal... or any other top player who may be taking too long between points. If your complain to the chair, fairly or not you are going to be seen as a whiner and tattle tale....somebody who can't beat an opponent fair and square but has to run to 'Daddy' or 'Mommy' umpire to help. Its not shouldn't be that way... but it IS that way.

I thought Darren made some good points, but its a hard thing to do and even though it may seem childish, I think Soderling is 'dealing' with it the only way that some might find acceptable.

Posted by temes 07/03/2007 at 09:48 PM

I think Williamses and Seles were pretty much equally loud, with Seles screaming more often and even when hitting slices(!)

I personally do not think the grunts are gamesmanship, especially when it's only during tight situations. If it really was that effective tactic to distrupt your opponents, wouldn't they do it all the time in all situations, especially at the start of the matches which are very important? Another long shot accusation of calculated gamesmaship. Wouldn't the players complain more about the grunting players if it really bothered them? I think some people make this issue far too big, it essentially comes down to some tennis spectators rather old-fashioned desire to have their tennis nice and quiet.

Why do the Williamses grunt just as much during matches against each others? Would they really want to use some horrible tactic against a beloved sister? Surely they have less desire to win against each others than against someone else and yet they still grunt just as much?(A ball by Serena was called out during 2005 USO 4th round between the two, and Venus told the umpire to give Serena the point as she saw the ball was in, plus they have many times said it's harder to play against a sister, proof that they have less desire when playing against each others) Maybe it's just because the grunts are natural and not a calculated thing and in the end they don't even bother their opponents that much, only some fans.

Posted by TennisRone 07/03/2007 at 10:48 PM

Serena is definitely in the competitor category. Can't say I have a feel for where Mauresmo fits. She seems to want to take the performer side and apply the competitor to it...but has failed to historically pull that gear and can appear to wilt. It's hard to hitch your wagon to 'Mo' and feel like she'll lead you to the finals.

I'd also comment that Vaidisova has the kind of game which can give anyone trouble on grass...slower balls regardless. The very big serve and groundies are a good grass combo. She kind of has that awkward Lindsey Davenport look to her...I wonder if she'll be able to pull it together like Lindsay (another person whom couldn't pull the competitor gear at the higher level...although she has been more successful then 'Mo'). I miss Lindsay, by the way.

Posted by Slice-n-dice 07/03/2007 at 10:59 PM

Thanks, Pete, for not blurring the lin e between competitor and warrior to much. You had me going for a while, but I believe it's fair to say that the best of the competitors, as you call them, are the warriors. Their will to win is far greater than their desire to play well. Jimmy Connors become one of these when he entered the pro tour and had his ars handed to him a few times. He commented back then (I'll say it was around 1973) that he had come to the conclusion that tennis was really about getting the ball over the net and between the lines one more time, at all costs. Forget about beauty and grace and all that jazz, just get the ball back over and hopefully out of reach of your opponent. Failing that, take the error as your birthright and trudge on, past the bodies strewn across the battlefield, and make your last charge up the slope with a rebel yell and slice down everything that lay in your path.

It ain't pretty, as you say, but losing is far uglier.

Posted by TennisRone 07/03/2007 at 11:11 PM

One last thing...I think a player can be a performer if they remain within the Top 10 for a significant amount of time. Davydenko/Roddick/Hewitt don't have as much hardware as Nadal and Federer, but I don't think they can be accused of lacking that spirit to win every time out there. While the computer rankings aren't a perfect measure, they do provide some rewards to consistent performers. Roddick may try and to grind out any kind of advantage against Fed/Rafa, but he just lacks (barely) the actual tools to consistently come out ahead against those performers.

If only, somehow, Andy (and the rest of the American men) could find a winning comination on clay. Too bad their strategic approaches are just miserable on that surface.

I really enjoy this topic...thanks again Pete.

Posted by Rhonda 07/04/2007 at 01:05 AM

Rafael Nadal deserves so much more respect and credit. Everyone, including the media,is so down on him. He has beaten Federer and others many times. Lets remember he beat Federer on the half grass/half clay competition and is three-time winner of the French Open. He will win many more tournaments. And he is a nice guy. Vamos RAFA!! Win Wimbledon!

Posted by Machia 07/04/2007 at 01:13 AM

Viva Vamos RAFA!!! You have alot of people that love you and are cheering for you!!

Posted by remain anonymous 07/04/2007 at 02:35 AM

Ahhhh "Competitors an Performers".... there is only one!!!!

Someone mentioned Connors, so I'll take another reitree... Pete Sampras.

Who went out on Melbourne night, after his coach was flown back 2 Californis with a tumor on hid brain, and fire aces through tears, while coming back from 2 sets??? Who but Pete???

Who was it that vomitted twice in the 5th set In Queens, NY... and still managed 2 win, while barely standing??? Was that Sampras again???

Speaking of Flushing, why was that every tim hit seemed Corretja would put the final nail in Pete's coffin and gore him into the ground, Sampras would fire an ace, rip a forehand or knock off a volley??? Is that the competitor in him????

Who was it that hobbled 2 his 7th Wimbledon crown on leg???? I believe that was also Peter the Great.

In 1995 when th Russians dug out the carpet, and replaced with clay for the Davis Cup final, 2 try and deter "one man", wasn't it the "one man" who stayed quie and didn't utter a word???
Sorry I lied. That "one man" did respond...
He responded by delivering the Davis Cup brilliantly with an all winning(2 singles & doubles) perfomance,fighting through crams, while French Open champs Agassi and Courier went "0 for" in Moscow.

Performance...night matches at the US Open. Sampras has played 20 times under the lights in Flushing.... he's never lost!!!!

All Sampras did was win. Wasn't he the one who once said "I'd kick my own brother's ass if he was on the other side of the net!".

If competitveness is judged by winning look no further than the 1995 US Open. When everything was on the line how did Pete respond??? With victory.

All the small ones didn't matter Pete wanted slams. After Rafter won the 1997 US Open, in the 3 weeks proceeding Pete put 2 beat downs on him in 2 week span Davis Cup and Grand Slam Cup F.

When a back injury forced him out of the 1999 US Open and Agassi won going onto end Pete's reign of 6 yrs @ #1. Sampras got his shot vs Andre in the Yr End F. What did he do???
I won't tell U, but I'll tell U it only took him 1 hr 46 min to do it.

He won cuz he was the greatest.
He won cuz of his talent.
He won cuz his serve would aid the times the rest of his(and even body) failed him.
He won cuz he would impose his will on U.
He won cuz he knew "there was a point in the match where he could put the screws in an break U".
He won cuz he simply willed himself 2 do so.

But most importantly he won cuz he wouldn't allow himself 2 lose.
And we can thank Stefan Edberg 4 that(see 1992 US Open). After that, losing was not option. Second place...unacceptable.

So if U wanna know why Peter the Great is the greatest it's cuz he wouldn't allow himself 2 lose!!

What a competitor.

Posted by Andrew 07/04/2007 at 08:25 AM

temes: if you're still interested in the conversation, some last thoughts on my side.

Thanks for posting the YouTube videos. One thing they encouraged me to do was look at some Serena Williams matches over time. Back in the 2001 match with Seles, all the noise was coming from Seles' end, apart from one or two Williams serves. This reminded me of other Serena matches I'd seen from the late 1990s - early 2000s. Williams was very quiet during these matches.

By 2004, this was beginning to change, and by 2007 she's in, shall we say, full voice.

You're a big fan of Serena Williams, which is absolutely fine with me. As fans, we sometimes respond in a prickly fashion when our hero/heroine's behavior is questioned. I'm sure folks can quote chapter and verse to me about standing up for Federer.

You probably have me down in the category of a "Williams disliker." I don't think this is right. I cheered for both sisters on their way up. I was disappointed that their finals didn't produce better matches, but I've come to be disappointed with a lot of WTA finals.

And if I see anyone - Soderling, Sharapova, Djokovic or one of the Williams sisters - do something which doesn't sit right with me, I'll try to say so politely, while accepting that others may take a different view. Make sense?

Posted by legnaleugim 07/04/2007 at 09:31 AM

Soderling is an asshole!

Posted by temes 07/04/2007 at 09:38 AM

Andrew, I'm still interested in this conversation.

"Thanks for posting the YouTube videos. One thing they encouraged me to do was look at some Serena Williams matches over time. Back in the 2001 match with Seles, all the noise was coming from Seles' end, apart from one or two Williams serves. This reminded me of other Serena matches I'd seen from the late 1990s - early 2000s. Williams was very quiet during these matches.

By 2004, this was beginning to change, and by 2007 she's in, shall we say, full voice."

Well this is funny because now you put me in position in which I must defend how loud Serena was, lol, but indeed I've seen many of her matches from 1999-2003 many times, and she indeed is grunts exactly like she does nowadays. So what you're saying is false.
She was quite quiet in the 2007 AO final, as she was in that Seles match. But in general she was exactly as much of a grunter as she is now.

Example I found from youtube in 2001:

Posted by temes 07/04/2007 at 09:47 AM

Andrew, I have actually seen many videos of Serena being something like 8 or 10 or so, and she grunts just as much.

Posted by legnaleugim 07/04/2007 at 11:40 AM

by the way Shriekpova and Yuri are sent home packing by Venus! Next to go is JuJu ,sorry I'm a JuJu fan but loves the beast!(I mean Serena,the Black Magic Woman,Goddess of Goddess,probably the second most virtuosa of womens game! Venus is the greatest! definetely! Including JuJu of course!

Posted by FruedianSlip 07/04/2007 at 11:53 AM

Umm, legnaleugim, your 9:31 post is offensive. I love this board (this is the only blog I actually read regularly) because its participants are amazingly insightful and mature. Can we keep it that way?

Posted by Andrew 07/04/2007 at 12:09 PM

temes: fair enough, the YouTube excerpt you posted had some good old fashioned exhalations.

Permit me to counter with: first, your own link to Seles (at 9:48, above). See also (Hingis/S Williams, 2001 US Open SF) (S Williams - Dokic, YEC 2002)

And for Venus: (V Williams - Dokic, Rome 2000).

Now, folks can probably get pretty bored with us firing YouTube videos backwards and forwards - "she doesn't!" "does too!" etc, etc... Also, my wife thinks me slightly cracked that I'm researching old Williams matches on 4th July...

From this (admittedly small) research, sometimes she does, sometimes she doesn't. Either way is fine with me (I prefer doesn't, but like I said before, the norms have shifted so it's now part of the game).

My only real objection is if any player - Nadal, Soderling, V/S Williams, Sharapova, Henin, Federer - behaves in a way that's designed to disrupt, or has a very good chance of disrupting, an opponent's concentration, other than by hitting good shots. Some of these things are judgement calls, and (in most cases) where there are judgement calls, partisans of a player usually take their part. Fair enough.

I take you at your word that you're trying to get the facts out. Please take me at mine that I'm not motivated by a special dislike of any player, but by a concern at the results, from time to time, of what looks to me like a "win at all costs" spirit.

Posted by temes 07/04/2007 at 02:53 PM

Ok we disagree Andrew. Fair enough. I just think I have more facts that are indeed not love-for-Serena driven but just plain facts, more than you have. Facts that prove to me personally that the grunts are something that are very natural for Serena, they are part of exhale, as a singer I know that she is using only her abdominal muscles to create the grunts, not her throat muscles, if she was using her throat she could scream 10 times and her throat would be bleeding. So, abdominals are very important in stroke motion, and the effort comes out as grunts, much like with Nadal.
I also think it is a way for her to relieve tension, and pump herself up. I think her game would be negatively affected if she wasn't allowed to do it, not because her opponents could concentrate better but because a natural part of her game was taken off.
I don't think the grunts were originated to bother opponents, and I don't think they are used as such now. She probably knows some people think they are gamesmanship, but as no one is making major complainments and there are no rules that ban screaming, she is free to do it. I think her game and energy is more free flowing on court because of the grunts, and why should she not do it if she prefers? I just dont buy it that she put this to her game in order to bother opponents. It just sounds weird to me. She grunts because it helps her to produce great quality tennis.
Plus, I think it would do her more harm than good if she was concentrating to create a really loud bothersome grunts while doing her stroke motions(!) than actually concentration on the stroke and the point.

So the only thing that bothers me with you Andrew is that you are claiming that Serena is using gamesmanship with her grunts, rather than just, well, grunting. I'm not trying to argue that they would not bother opponents, I don't know. But since basically no one is complaining about the grunts, expect tennis fans such as you, and even if the grunts were bothersome to some, I think the negative effect to their games is second to none. So I don't think this is an issue even that needs to be argued as much as it is being argued.

I think banning the use of vocal cords, the free, full use of your breathing system in your body, is a seriously wrong move. If players have to stress about fully delivering their energy to their shots it's truly cruel. Sharapova needs to be allowed to grunt if she wants. And the Williamses.

But a new rule that allows the umpire to kindly ask a player to turn the volume down a slight notch would be okay, if the other player has complaints. But then again, is the other player while complaining using gamesmanship, affecting the grunting players concentration, because they have to stress about it?

Aaaah this is all for nothing. How the hell I know. We just have to agree to disagree Andrew. We just have our beliefs, nothing more. But can we agree on the fact that the grunting is more of an annoyance to the ears rather than a tactic to win that is effective?
So effective that it deserves to be discussed as much as now?

Posted by Elevennis Anytwo? 07/04/2007 at 09:35 PM

Andrew and Temes: lol
Actually, I would like you to keep firing Youtubes back and forth until you've found all the Williams Sisters' matches on the 'net!

On the grunting: every player grunts, but some rarely and some all the time, some loudly and some quietly. And Venus and Serena have done it from the beginning. That Monica-Serena match is evidence thereof. Carillo, commentating, says at one point, "The crowd started laughing in the middle of that point because both of them were grunting so loud." She also says, "It's actually very important to exhale when hitting the ball." Temes's point that the sisters grunt when playing each other should be enough evidence that it isn't gamesmanship on their part. Of course, with other players....

So, depending on your personal preference, grunting is a part of the game that can thrill or annoy, but regardless, it is here to stay.

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