Wimbledon: Clean serves and foul mouths are all part of the tradition
Competitors at SW19 pay dearly for losing the run of themselves during play
Heather Watson argues a line call on day one of Wimbledon. Druing the match, she drew a €2,500 fine for a verbal obscenity. Photograph: PA
When the temperatures soar and the shots land a little long, when the scoreboard is turning over for only one player and life’s ambitions are being seen to ebb away, the grass will always stay green.
But the Wimbledon air can very often turn blue.
It would be naive to think that back in the days of William Renshaw and Nancye Wynne Bolton, players did not succumb to stabs of frustration and F-bomb the court as Serena Williams did this week and during the recent French Open final.
It would be foolish to believe that the gods of grass court tennis don’t sometimes have feet of clay of feet and become very human when the forehand is long and the service action departs.
The mighty microphone
They range from visible and audible obscenities to verbal and physical abuse of balls and racquets. It’s fair to say that players have reined it in since the days of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, who took the genre of foul mouth to a level never before or since reached. But it hasn’t stopped.
Five-time champion Serena Williams was given a code violation for an ‘audible obscenity’ during her first-round win. She later laughed it off, putting it down to nerves. It cost her €2,500.
The commentators on BBC had to apologise for British player Heather Watson’s grubby mouth during her first match, which was picked up by microphones on Court 12. She also drew a €2,500 fine for “You’re f**king kidding me.”
Cursing like a trooper can subject a player to a fine up to over €18,000 for each violation. For the purposes of the rule, visible obscenity is defined as the making of signs by a player with his hands and/or racquet or balls that commonly have an obscene meaning.
Until Friday of this week, six women had been fined for breaches of behaviour rules by a committee made up of a referee and Grand Slam supervisors. Three were for audible obscenities, two for racquet abuse and one for illegally consulting with coaches during the match.
In total those players have paid over €10,800 in fines for the first four days of play. But the men are worse.
On Court Two, Australian Nick Kyrgios walked away from the umpire’s chair after a fiery exchange of views in his second round match and screamed “dirty scum”. The 20-year-old later explained that the insult was not aimed at umpire Mohamed Lahyani, but directed at himself. That saved him several thousand euro.
Britain’s Liam Broady, was also handed a code violation for F-bombing in his match against Australian Marinko Matosevic. He agreed he deserved the punishment but said he felt big stars got favourable treatment as they “shout at the top of their voices and get nothing”.
Broady, who brilliantly clawed his way back into the match from two sets down, was heard repeatedly saying “f**king shit, f**king shit” to himself. What’s all the fuss about, was his response before adding: “Being from Manchester and 21, you know, my friends . . . people swear.”
Nine male players have picked up fines, although Broady is correct in part. Much of the profanity heard at courtside is directed away from the umpire’s chair and goes unpunished. Non-English players also swear in their own language and, although efforts are made to know what they are saying, most of it goes unnoticed.
Dustin Brown, the dreadlocked favourite of this week’s cast of newcomers paid up €1,000 for an audible obscenity. Qualifier Luke Saville from Australia paid €2,000 for the same offence. American Jack Sock drew a €2,500 tariff for smashing the ball towards vocal Aussie fans, while Spain’s Marcel Granollers was hit with a whopping €10,000 bill, again for unsportsmanlike behaviour.
Breaking the lawn
Last year Italian Fabio Fognini got slapped with fine of €24,300. The predictably dramatic Italian couldn’t resist getting involved with umpires and officials during his first round win over Alex Kuznetsov.
Fognini was hit with two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties: one for €18,000 and another for €4,500, plus a third fine of €2,250 for a visible obscenity. He was seen arguing with the chair umpire, swearing and getting in the face of a tournament referee prompting reports that he was trying to start a fight.
This year the men have accumulated €22,800 in fines over the first four days of play.
McEnroe, now almost an establishment figure and one of the sharpest tennis analysts on television, has criticised the use of courtside microphones as he believes they deter players from bringing verbal colour to the occasion.
The perfect storm
Occasionally tennis has the perfect storm. That came this year at Roland Garros in the third round where Andy Murray faced Kyrgios, the Scot now regarded as the Enola Gay of F-bombing. Neither player disappointed with a series of F-laden tirades, most of it picked up by television.
The astonishing thing is that neither player was fined. The French have a peculiarly laissez-faire non-British way of looking at swearing. But the New York Times recently reported that the sheer volume of Murray’s swearing caused a British coach, Chris Nelson, to Tweet that he had to turn off the television.
“I wonder if @andymurray would like to apologise for my clubhouse full of young kids for his foul mouth,” said Nelson. Chastened by the public dressing down Murray responded on Twitter. “Very sorry. I try 2 be a good role model but this is one of my many failings. I’m far from perfect but I do try hard to improve my behaviour.”
Turning the air blue. Just another tennis tradition.