Jelena Jankovic (RS) bt. Petra Kvitova (CZ) 3-6, 7-5, 6-4
Andy Murray (GB) bt. Andreas Seppi (I) 6-2, 6-2, 1-6, 6-1
Roger Federer (CH) bt. Sam Groth (AUS) 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-2
Eyesight, knowledge of the rules of the game of tennis and a three-word vocabulary seem to be the only necessary qualifications to be a tennis line judge. Additional facets of both character and experience are, obviously, going to prove ultimately advantageous but those initial three things are definitely the prerequisites. Quite why so many of the line judges at every tennis tournament seem to fall so short on the latter is beyond me, but it is an observable phenomenon.
The three key words for making line calls in tennis are “out”, “foot” and “fault”. Anything else is completely extraneous and, indeed, likely to be frowned on by the chair umpire. If the line judges are going to start offering additional comments, the game could quickly descend into farce. Come the day a lashed Nick Kyrgios forehand drive is met by a chorus of “sheeeeeeet”, I fear the sport could quickly lose its reputation for decorum.
However, if you are a particular connoisseur of any of the aforementioned three words, you are shit out of luck while watching Wimbledon. The dedication to the wholesale abandonment of diction or labial fricatives is pretty remarkable but renders them all a porridge of barks, yelps and tortured vowel sounds. Here are some of the variants I’ve heard just this week: HUT, HOOT, HOWH, AAART, BAAAAA, BARK, HOTT, HAARF, HUNK, OOT, MOWL. Sometimes, just a single letter is favoured, sometimes just a noise of any kind.
Why might this be? Well, one thing I know for sure is that both the ATP and WTA Tours have a central pool of dedicated chair umpires, who travel the world with the tennis circuit. That’s a lot of tournaments in a lot of countries. Maybe the Tour also has a retinue of line judges who similarly make the journey from place to place, and their words without language are the ideal compromise solution when one week the local lingo might be Russian, the next week Turkish and the next week Spanish? Or maybe each tournament provides their own local team of line personnel, all of them meticulously schooled in this tennis lingua franca? I can’t say anything for certain. All I do know is that the overall effect is a sound completely unique to tennis; apart perhaps from a primal scream therapy session, a world class aviary stocked with the most exotic birds or a “happening” at an avant garde art installation. The one unifying factor between all of these things – Centre Court at Wimbledon, primal scream therapy, exotic birds and modern art – is: Yoko Ono. So we know that at some level, she is somehow involved.
On the court yesterday, two of the favourites in the men’s draw rumbled on into the second week but neither without incident. Roger Federer took control of his match with the huge-serving Australian Sam Groth but by the third set the Aussie had started to find his range and his touch, giving the number 2 seed plenty to think about before normality was restored and the Swiss was able to comfortably win the fourth set. Andy Murray, too, continued where he had left off on Thursday against Italy’s Andreas Seppi. However, a troublesome shoulder gave everyone on Centre Court plenty to grind their worry balls about as the physio came down to crack his back into some order and Seppi, a highly experienced and talented player, was able to take the first set off of the Briton at this year’s tournament. Next up for the home hero, now the sole British player left in the draw after James Ward went down battling 8-6 in the deciding set to Canada’s Vasek Pospisil, is the 6’10” serve-o-tron Croat, Ivo Karlovic.
All of the main shocks continue to happen in the women’s half of the draw. Yesterday, it was the reigning champion’s turn to fall. Her conqueror was Jelena Jankovic, the 2008 US Open finalist, a four-time Grand Slam semi-finalist and a former world number 1. However, Jankovic is not noted for her grass court ability: her next match, with Poland’s Aga Radwanska, will be her 5th time in the fourth round in SW19 but she is yet to go any further, and neither was she expected to make too much of an impact against a woman who has increasingly started to make Wimbledon her own. It’s indicative of the strength in depth that exists in the women’s game, where anyone seems to be able to beat anyone else. However, it can also make it frustratingly messy for the casual fan to follow. Sport always needs to have its big name performers, even if they are just so many dragons to be slain.
At Wimbledon this year there have been few dragons. The line judges scared them away.