Brian Viner: When silent majority let tennis become a shouting match, only the rule-benders win

The Last Word

Related Topics

Maria Sharapova eventually steamrollered Heather Watson in Monday's first round of the US Open – as she had Laura Robson at Wimbledon – but not before the 19-year-old from Guernsey, like Robson, had made the world's highest-paid female athlete look decidedly second best.

And at the end of their three sets, there is no doubt that the victor got a less rousing ovation than the vanquished from the crowd at Flushing Meadows.

From where I was sitting, on my living-room sofa, there seemed to be four reasons for this. First, there was a sizeable contingent of Brits watching. Second, the voluble spectators at the US Open always back a battler. As Jimmy Connors once put it: "New Yorkers love it when you spill your guts out there. Spill your guts at Wimbledon and they make you stop and clean it up."

Third and fourth, American tennis fans have never entirely taken Sharapova to their hearts, and one of the reasons is the hullabaloo she makes, which throughout the first set and much of the second, in the echoey Arthur Ashe arena, was louder than even I, as a seasoned Sharapova-listener, had ever heard before. My sometime colleague Nick Bollettieri, whose tennis academy in Florida crafted not only Sharapova's game but also Watson's, would take me to task for moaning about the shrieking. "Holy cow, enough already, Bernard!" he would exclaim (he's not great with names). The great man feels that everything that needs to be said or written on the subject, has been. But really, had it been an actual steamroller out there steamrollering Watson, the noise could not have been any louder.

It sounded like the final throes of labour, with an agonising contraction at every moment of impact of ball on racket. And even if it didn't distract Watson, the feeling that it might was enough to sway the crowd, the more so as young Heather plays silently, with just an occasional, pleasing little grunt of exertion. Moreover, while Sharapova probably gets louder when she's losing simply because she's working harder, the suspicion remains that the really loud shriek is another weapon in her armoury, one she can deploy in times of desperation.

All sports have their regrettable features, of course, and many of them have become so familiar in the modern sporting landscape that, as with those big, nasty pylons across swathes of the British countryside, we barely even bother mentioning them any more. What's the point of grumbling about the habitual grappling before the taking of every corner in every football match? When I go on about it, I even bore myself. But of course, the point is this: when the righteous criticism stops, the rule-benders and breakers have won. And while it is not bending or breaking the rules to simulate the sound of childbirth during a tennis match, holy cow, it really should be.

Keepers are a law unto themselves – just ask Denis

At the Independent Woodstock Literary Festival on 16 September, I will be hosting a breakfast discussion, at the King's Arms hotel, with journalist and author Simon Kuper, and Martin Keown, whose incisive analysis bolsters my theory that the best football pundits are almost always ex-defenders. Lee Dixon, Alan Hansen and the impressive new boy on the block, Gary Neville, offer further evidence that defenders understand the game better than strikers, perhaps because as players they used their brains rather than their instincts.

My theory doesn't seem to apply, however, to the ultimate defender: the goalkeeper. I know Peter Schmeichel sometimes pops up on the telly, and I've seen Paul Robinson doing a bit of punditry, and dear old Bob Wilson enjoyed a decent TV career, but as a presenter rather than a pundit. On the whole there is no position on the football field less represented in the broadcasting studio than that of the goalkeeper, which maybe has something to do with what Denis Law said to me the other day on the subject of goalies. "It's one area I have no idea what I'm talking about it," said Scotland's finest goalscorer. "I know that if five goals go past them they've had a bad game, but I don't know how they do it, or why they do it. I don't class them as football players."

When no news is good news in the world of sport

On Thursday it was reported in The Independent that Gareth Thomas, the former captain of the Welsh rugby union team, having switched codes, has been offered a one-year contract by Wigan, now that the troubled Crusaders club have withdrawn from Super League. Nowhere in the report was there even a fleeting reference to Thomas's status as Britain's most prominent gay sportsman, following his decision almost two years ago to come out.

This, of course, is the way it should be. And when a Premier League footballer finally does what "Alfie" Thomas so courageously did, it will pave the way for a similar newspaper report, in which a gay player moves from one club to another without any mention of his sexuality. Yet the way waiting to be paved is strewn with sticks and stones, which is why nobody wants to be the first. When he does eventually step forward, it will, to paraphrase another brave pioneer, represent one small step for man, one giant leap for a mature society. Even if the volume of homophobic ranting makes him want to step back again, he will, like all pioneers, have made the same journey a little easier for those who follow.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
With an eye for strategy: Stephen Fry’s General Melchett and Rowan Atkinson’s Edmund Blackadder  

What Cameron really needs is to turn this into a khaki election

Matthew Norman
An Italian policeman stands guard as migrants eat while waiting at the port of Lampedusa to board a ferry bound for Porto Empedocle in Sicily. Authorities on the Italian island of Lampedusa struggled to cope with a huge influx of newly-arrived migrants as aid organisations warned the Libya crisis means thousands more could be on their way  

Migrant boat disaster: EU must commit funds to stop many more dying

Alistair Dawber
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own