There’s an art to being a ‘respectable’ spectator at Wimbledon – but few, including me, have mastered it

There is clearly a very middle-class approach to watching tennis – that being to sit in utter silence, clap when one is supposed to, and show zero emotion 

Sam Hancock@samhancock95
Sunday 14 July 2019 16:33
Wimbledon Championships in numbers

“Da Simona, Da Simona, Da Simona” is how I’d sum up my experience at Centre Court yesterday, watching the women’s singles final. The cries came from Romanian fans all around the echoey arena, but one supporter in particular captured the hearts, and darting glances, of my block – and not because we loved her, but because we wanted her to shut up.

Admittedly, I’m a Serena Williams fan through and through, and watching her play live has been on my bucket list for years. So, the result yesterday wasn’t exactly what I wanted. Being a truly fair spectator though, I cheered when Simona Halep scored some of those points – and let’s be honest, she really did play “out of her mind” as Williams called it in her runner-up speech – and I applauded when she, deservedly, picked up her first Wimbledon trophy.

But one thing I couldn’t overlook, and certainly applaud, was the brash, sometimes completely ignorant, nature of said woman whose cries earned her a spot on the BBC’s coverage of Halep’s winning moment – she was the dark-haired woman who draped a Romanian flag around her shoulders when she spotted herself on the big screen.

Her commitment to supporting one of her nation’s brightest sporting stars was certainly commendable, but her decision to shout “Da Simona” – meaning “Go Simona” – before every single play, including Williams’ own serves, seemed rude to me – and unnecessary. Particularly when it became so obvious that Halep was going to win and that Williams clearly wasn’t playing her best. “Give the woman a break,” my sister and I kept muttering – she too was there to support Williams, but thought Halep absolutely earned the win.

Even more annoying was the fact I was essentially scolded for doing the same thing, just once and on a smaller scale, and yet this woman seemed to do as she pleased and come out the other side unscathed. After Williams fought to win one of her points, and screamed at the ground in triumph for a number of seconds afterwards, my adrenaline was pumping and when the crowd hushed, I admit I shouted, “Come on Serena!” At which point the man in front of me turned around, shook his head and told me to be quiet.

I felt embarrassed for a second and then angry, but before I could decide what to do about it, I looked around and realised that almost every single person around me was annoyed at someone else for going against the unwritten rulebook of being the perfect spectator.

When a man behind me, before the umpire had a chance to and on many occasions, screamed, “LET – FIRST SERVICE”, I could see the couple next to my sister and I bubbling with rage and turning around to let him know – via the most British stare down I have ever seen (basically a look that lasts for two seconds and would go completely unnoticed by the person it is intended for).

And when another of Halep’s supporters stood up, with a Romanian football scarf in hand, and began singing the country’s national anthem, a group of middle-aged friends some rows in front of us angrily stood up and went to tell one of the event’s guards – who, quite amusingly, could not have cared less if he tried.

Though sometimes the jeers can be more serious – and not nearly as funny. Like the man yesterday who shouted, “Wake up, Serena!” to which Williams looked out into the crowd, as if to shout something back, before going on to win the point. Or the spectator last year who, during Roger Federer and Kevin Anderson’s dramatic quarter-final on No 1 Court, cheered for Federer, prompting Anderson to stop bouncing the ball and pause for a few tense seconds.

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I’ve never been to any of the other courts at Wimbledon, or any other Grand Slam event to be fair, but I wonder if the incessant shushing and judgemental nature of onlookers are exclusive to the championships’ most prized court – or if they are in fact integral to every professional tennis match and venue.

Safe to say, I suddenly felt quite liberated that I had been shushed. I’d gone against the clearly very middle-class approach to watching tennis – that being to sit in utter silence, clap when one is supposed to, show zero emotion and, by golly, not to choose a favourite to win and cheer them on. Because that would be crazy. At a sporting event. And I’m sure this is exactly how all spectators are behaving today as two of the top male players go head to head, in what promises to be one of the most exciting games of tennis this year.

So, woman who inspired this thought and transgressed any sign of a rule when it comes to being a spectator on Centre Court: thank you. “Da” you for showing me not to take it so seriously. I didn’t agree with everything you did and I do think both players deserved respect – not just the one you yourself were rooting for. But you taught me a very valuable lesson: it’s the players who are battling it out for what is their livelihood and biggest passion, not us, whose biggest challenge is to decide whether or not it’s worth running out for a £8.50 cup of Pimm’s and risk missing the great Serena Williams coming back to win the fight.

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