Did the noisy lovemaking heard during Tafoe’s match against Krueger at the Sarasota Challenger tournament in Florida really bother the player ? Of course. Because a tennis player sometimes needs silence around him to remain focused. That’s the reason why the opponent’s screams or the whispers in the crowd can be annoying. But you have to learn to deal with all that.
Frances Tiafoe prefers to laugh about it. Mitchell Krueger, on his side, grabs a ball and hits it in the direction of the obvious noises. For a few seconds, this Challenger tournament match played between the world number 87 and the world number 182 stopped. A couple was having fun nearby and was making sure that everyone around can hear it. A little unsettled at first, Tiafoe missed his first serve before winning the point. But the intercourse hadn’t finished. « He can’t be that good ! », the player yelled, laughing. The young American talent (19 years old) decided to use humor to stop himself from mentally switching off in his match. A choice which was perfectly adapted to the circumstances and which worked, as he then easily won the match (6-3, 6-2).
Noise. A notion which doesn’t go very well with tennis. Besides the specificity of the one heard in Florida, noises in general don’t have a good reputation on a court. Which explains the numerous warnings given by the umpires, who rarely go through a match without saying « Silence, please », or a more polite « the players are ready, thank you ». So is resting your ears indispensable for the player, in order to serve well ? « Some people have decided to install that. But do we really need silence between two points ? I’m not really sure about that. Is absolutely not necessary, says Maxime Bedel, a tennis coach and visualization specialist. To me, tennis should be comparable to any other sport on that specific point. » Before giving the example of Rafael Nadal : « When we believe that Nadal is waiting for the crowd to be silent before serving, we misinterpret things. He’s only doing that to grab a few more seconds to rest. Noise isn’t unsettling for him. » Not so fast, says Nathalie Tauziat, the ex-world number 3 who is now a coach : « If players need calm and silence, it’s to hear the ball’s noise. Many adjust their game with that noise. We use our eyes, but our ears as well. » Julien Varlet, an ex-professional player, confirms : « The noise coming from the crowd is not really bothering us, but it’s important to hear the ball when you play. Sound is part of your sensation. That’s why a lot of players don’t like playing indoors, as the sound of the ball is much louder. » The crowd’s whispers is however a very annoying noise for the players. The proof with Benoit Paire’s anger fit aimed at the spectators of the Chennai tournament last January.
Or Stan Wawrinka, who got mad at French politician Jean-Vincent Placé in Bercy last November.
« Wawrinka was right to do so, says Nathalie Tauziat. When one single person talking behind you and breaking the silence, it’s annoying. When you hear that person speak, and carrying on like nothing is happening…good luck to serve. » A behavior which shouldn’t take place in the stands. Well, it really depends on where the tournament is located, says Julien Varlet : « In the US, silence is less imposed. There are planes flying above you, you can also hear people eating…there’s a constant background noise. It’s part of the atmosphere and it can be quite surprising at first. Especially when you’re playing indoors. But it’s normal for them. You get used to it. It’s the player’s role to adapt to any specific context and to get use to playing with noise. I can’t remember who it was, but there was a team who had trained with music before a match which was taking place in South America. In Europe, people respect the silence a lot more. »
« Some tennis players scream at the exact moment when their opponent hits the ball ! »
In consequence, an unusual sound in a quiet atmosphere is much more deranging than a lot of whispers at the same time. « In France, when there is an unusual noise, you hear it. And it can be unsettling, » Julien Varlet adds. So, how do you remain focus with all these parasite sounds ? Should the player multiply his requests to the umpire ? Should he wear earplugs ? Or maybe just stop playing, wait and only start again when the court is completely silent again ? None of that, according to Maxime Bedel. Whose strategy is just to accept it as a factor of the game : « Right now, a lot of players are unsettled by these noises. They suffer from them. In truth, everyone should be able to learn to tolerate them. In any case, there will always be noises, so you have to live with them. With what method ? It’s up to every player to find his own method. » But the voices of the crowd can also become a weapon. During a rally, for instance, when the admiring cheers react to a lob or a tweener. « When the crowd goes nuts during a rally, that’s pretty nice, says Nathalie Tauziat. It can truly help you play better. That’s what I tell my player : ‘Use the energy of the crowd when the whole stadium is behind you.’ »
Only remain the screams of the players, which are often controversial. And which are surely the most annoying noises for the players. Why ? As these exaggerated screams are sometimes only used to tease the enemy’s nerves. In men’s and women’s tennis equally. Julien Varlet : « Some of the players scream very loud on purpose, to annoy their opponent. It’s much rarer at the highest level, but in the Juniors category… Some tennis players scream at the exact moment when their opponent hits the ball ! » « The goal is clearly to infuriate your opponent, says Nathalie Tauziat. Let’s take the example of Monica Seles. During training, she wouldn’t make a sound. Nothing. But when she was playing a match…Once, I complained because of her screams at Wimbledon. They were echoing, it was incredible. You couldn’t even hear the ball. It’s impossible to play. But I was even less bothered as a player than I am now, as a coach. Sometimes it’s just impossible. Im-po-ssi-ble. » Julien Varlet had a difficult experience at Roland-Garros. While he was playing the qualification rounds behind the court Suzanne Lenglen, he had the misfortune of playing at the same time as Maria Sharapova. « It’s quite simple : she was screaming so loud that it became unbearable. We stopped the match, and both players next to us did as well. It really stopped us from playing. » Faking can also be disturbing.