Tennis players are increasingly involving the audience in their games.  “This is also why Alcaraz is so popular.”

Tennis players are increasingly involving the audience in their games. “This is also why Alcaraz is so popular.”

Carlos Alcaraz likes to play with the crowd, as here during his semifinal match against Daniil Medvedev at the US Open.AP photo

Carlos Alcaraz likes it: celebrating points with energy. 20-year-old tennis player Ben Shelton was described as a showman during his impressive semi-final win at the US Open. After years of watching Roger Federer perform in a controlled manner, there is now a generation of tennis players who often excite the audience and demand attention. But the majority of Dutch tennis players are still shy.

Davis Cup captain Paul Haarhuis says addressing the spectators is a positive development. This makes the audience more excited about the sport and increases their experience. To demonstrate, Haarhuis raises his left arm sideways in the air and begins moving his fingers. Then he turns his head slightly to the side, and his ear towards his moving fingers. “They face the audience that way,” he says. Extreme cheering is always a thing of the past, but the Davis Cup captain is seeing the gesture more often these days.

Finished by the author
Lisette van der Geest is a sports correspondent for the Volkskrant newspaper and has written about Olympic sports such as skiing, tennis, judo, handball and sailing for more than ten years.

“Uncomfortable” is not the word Boteach van de Zandschulp, the Netherlands’ second-in-command, wants to use for the gesture that Haarhuis is making. “But it doesn’t really occur to me to do that. And I honestly never thought of doing that. He’s not interested in expressive gestures. He also doesn’t roar with his mouth wide open after scoring a point.”

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Much more conservative

Van de Zandschulp is more reserved than, say, Talon Grekboer, captain of the Dutch team this week in the Davis Cup group stage in Split. The Greek track is quiet again compared to Alcaraz and Chilton.

Cheering can have a positive impact on an athlete. Haarhuis: “For Alcaraz, who I feel like he does this naturally, that’s one of the reasons why he’s so popular.” Haarhuis believes that when the Spanish player met American Frances Tiafoe in the US Open semi-finals a year ago and ultimately won, the mostly American crowd was just as happy as if Tiafoe had won.

Haarhuis also believes it makes sense for more tennis players to follow Alcaraz in his approach to the public. “In the past, we didn’t ask the ball girl for four balls and then give her back two balls. We picked the ball out of two balls that you thought were the best.

The yellow hairs were less straight, making the ball faster on the first serve. “Then you put the other ball in your pocket.” Now you see them all asking for four balls. Asking for a towel after every point played was also common for a while. “People see other people’s actions and think: I’ll do it too.”

Cool to see

Gijs Brouwer, who made his debut this week for the Davis Cup team, is known as the unassuming North Hollander. When he was allowed to play against Alexander Zverev on one of the biggest courts during Wimbledon, the late player enjoyed playing in silence. “But actually engaging the audience is something I have to work on, because it can help,” Brewer says when he brings up the topic. “It’s not really in me, but when I see people on TV doing it, and the audience gets mad, I think it’s cool to see.”

At the same time, he was warning against many abuses. He has taught himself to be more superficial in his emotions, as he calls them. “Abundance can give a lot of energy, but you don’t want to turn into negativity if things don’t go well. I was disappointed for a long time. Now I’m not afraid of that anymore, I’ve learned that. Against Zverev, I could engage the audience after That, but it didn’t occur to me at the time to play with the audience a little. The more often I was in such situations, the more aware I became of them.

Show fist

Haarhuis encourages his men to show their fist after winning a point. Not necessarily to excite the audience, but mainly to instill fighting spirit. ‘And to attract positive energy to yourself. I would like to see more emotion.

For a long time, Federer’s behavior was decisive on the tennis court. Respectful, elegant, eloquent and never extreme in its ecstasy. He never urged the audience to make a sound. It took the Swiss three years as a young player to find the right balance in his behavior on the pitch, as Van de Zandschulp knows. At first he was very calm, but later he became more expressive.

Van de Zandschulp also says he’s still searching for the right vibes on the track. “Sometimes I might be a little too calm, and other matches might be too passive. But what is a useful approach can also vary from match to match. One opponent prefers it when you are calm, the other doesn’t. I can still improve that.

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