Tennis / Wimbledon '94: TV set for volleys of abuse: Martin Johnson on the innovation that will expose men behaving badly on the tour

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The Independent Online
AS the men's semi-finals are poised to be decided by which two players can drill most holes in the backstop, potentially disturbing (or depending on your point of view, titillating) news has been filtering through on a plan to make the professional game more exciting.

In an effort to turn the men's tour into what its officials describe as more 'fan friendly', the players' observations - largely out of earshot of most spectators - are to be transmitted all the way to the back of the stand (not to mention through a few million television sets) by the use of sound-enhancing microphones.

The real excitement in this, however, lies in the fact that the views expressed by male players during the heat of a match are less likely to be of the 'nice stop-volley, old boy' variety, as helpful anatomical suggestions to the umpire as to potentially more appropriate sitings for his microphone.

This being the case, all televised matches might have to be accompanied by a 'parental guidance recommended' prefix, or a warning that 'some dialogue may offend.' At present, there are no plans to extend the on- court microphone to Grand Slam tournaments, and it is especially hard to imagine Wimbledon agreeing to it.

Of the 14 fines dished out in last year's tournament, one of the heaviest penalties (dollars 2,000 levied on Goran Ivanisevic) was for failing to attend a compulsory interview, and it is also clear from the entries on the 1993 indictment sheets that Wimbledon takes an even dimmer view of bad language if it goes out on the telly.

'Mr Haarhuis came to the umpire's chair at the end of the match and said: 'you've fucked up the match'. This was transmitted live on BBC TV.' Fined dollars 1,500. Plus (in a clear indication that the McEnroe Guide to Court Etiquette has been read by other members of the family) 'Mr P McEnroe, in discussion with the umpire, said: 'you are fucking wrong'. This discussion was broadcast by BBC TV and heard by spectators.' Fined dollars 1,000.

As you can see the charge sheets are delightfully worded. They put you in mind of a policeman in a magistrates' court, reading evidence from his notebook with the offically approved monotone delivery, while desperately attempting to keep a deadpan expression. 'Your worships. I invited the defendant to explain why he was walking naked through Marks and Spencers with a selection of women's underwear on his head, and his reply was as follows. 'Bugger off you flatfooted scuffer, you brain-dead bluebottles couldn't solve a crossword puzzle'.'

The most striking thing about this year's collection of code violations (and for the previous two), is that they have all been committed by men. Perhaps this is why women's tennis is so boring. Not only is the standard of play pretty grim, neither is there much prospect of anyone headbutting the umpire, or demolishing the drinks trolley with a delightfully uncontrolled forehand.

The charge sheets always begin: 'Such player violated Grand Slam Code Section X, Y, Z in that. . .' and then list the crime and fine. Here is a selection of some of the best from this year's tournament.

'Mr Pioline hit the ball two courts away.' dollars 500. 'Mr Pioline hit the sawdust box with anger.' dollars 500. 'Mr Novacek said to the ball girl: 'give me the fucking ball'.' dollars 750. 'Mr Volkov gave an obscene gesture in the direction of the umpire.' dollars 1,000. 'Mr Knowles said to the umpire: 'you suck, you know that'.' dollars 750. 'Mr Kruger hit the ball hard into the ground, and over the side fence, hitting a spectator'. dollars 750. 'Mr McEnroe said: 'you really stink'.' dollars 750. 'Mr Jensen said to an opponent: 'you piece of shit'.' dollars 1,500.

And finally, top fine (so far) of the fortnight. 'Mr Flach said to an opponent: 'fuck you, you're a faggot, fuck you'.' I'm not so sure about these microphones. Look what they did for Graham Taylor.