By Kimberly Minarovich
The 2009 US Open concluded and has added another chapter in the tennis history book. Juan Martin de Potro ended Roger Federer’s reign as five-time defending US Open champion to win his first major title. Kim Clijsters’ comeback not only gave her a second trophy, but also put her on record to become the second woman after Evonne Goolagong to win a major after in almost three decades after returning to the game after motherhood.
We honored Arthur Ashe by inducting him into the US Court of Champions. We remembered the contributions made by Jack Kramer after his death. We celebrated the 40th anniversary of Rod Laver’s 1969 Grand Slam sweep (For more on his life story, refer to The Education of a Tennis Player, by Rod Laver with Bud Collins, published by New Chapter Press.)
But, with all of this remembering, have we forgotten our tennis etiquette? Sadly, it seems as though we have. The recent surge in popularity has brought in a record number of attendees to the US Open in 2009 (about 1million for the entire tournament). Unfortunately, these spectators are not only newbies to the game, but are also newbies to tennis etiquette, which has been so closely associated with this gentlemen’s sport.
During this year’s tournament, I was struck by the number of attendees who were infants and toddlers. While I was watching Tommy Haas’ match on one of the outside courts, I was stunned to see a mother carrying two toddlers – one on her back and another slung across her chest. Thankfully for Tommy and the rest of us sitting on the small, intimate court that it was naptime for those little ones. But, what about the ones who wail, scream and cry during match play when their parents are sitting so close to the court? Kids under a minimum age are not allowed to attend live concerts and Broadway performances – both are also live events. So, why are they allowed onto the grounds? I am not shutting kids out of the game, but would mind boosting attendance at Arthur Ashe’s Kids Day! It is no secret that US tennis is losing its competitive edge. So, are we starting these kids young by bringing them to the courts while they are still in diapers? I was so curious why any parent would subject their little one to the hot blazing sun and the crowds that I asked a young couple who opted to bring their two month old to the men’s semi final matches which began with Rafa at noon and ended with Federer’s victory over Novak Djokovic over seven hours later. The father glared at me and said that he had two words for me. “F&%k off!” he told me. (And people were outraged over Serena’s language?) His display of sportsmanship was not ideal. I retaliated and had three (not two!) words for him. “Get a babysitter,” I shot back.
And, what about the cell phones, iPhones, and Blackberrys that ring during match play? And, the ensuing conversations that take place during match play! Are you joking? Should an announcement be made to turn these devices off before of after the rules of the challenge system are detailed? Maybe so.
How about those fans strolling around the stands when a player is in the middle of a first serve? Well, some of those fans look like they should stroll more, but around the track and not around Arthur Ashe Stadium Court. Has waiting for a changeover become a pastime like the all-white tennis garb that was clad by players of yesteryear? I’d like to bring both of those pastimes back, actually! After such poor etiquette from that the last fan that I questioned, I did not dare to ask another fan why that hot dog and beer were so necessary at that very moment rather than in a mere ten or fifteen minutes. Maybe the ushers can help us out on this front. Please do a better job keeping the fans in their seats (our in the waiting areas) during match play. If that is not possible, please direct these people to CitiField across the boardwalk. Maybe they are better suited to sit over there.
In all seriousness, let’s do our part to preserve the integrity of the game. But, the USTA can also help by changing some of the rules and reminding us all of proper tennis etiquette. They acted quickly towards Serena’s behavior so let’s hope they act quickly on improving the behavior of some of the fans. Off-court and on-court etiquette should be back in the sport.