This week the Tennis Channel was replaying Davis Cup matches from a few days before, when the Czech Republic defeated Argentina 3-2 in Buenos Aires.
I noticed several things onscreen that made me happy. First, the red clay and green walls brought to mind the French Open, and I remembered exciting matches I had enjoyed watching during this year’s tournament in Paris. Second, although it’s still early spring in Buenos Aires, the sun was shining and fans were dressed in short sleeves. Weather data on the internet said it had been 75 degrees last weekend, so I made a mental note to look for off-season airfare to Argentina– maybe I’d find a bargain.
But what intrigued me most was the Argentine spectators’ passion. They voiced approval and encouragement throughout the match. After every point there was applause, shouting and horn-blowing. Some fans even beat drums or blew whistles. Occasionally spectator emotion erupted between first and second serves, or on an impressive shot, even though it didn’t end a rally. See for yourself in these highlights from Juan Del Potro’s match vs. Radek Stepanek.
The sound of the Argentine horns resembled the vuvuzelas that garnered notoriety during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. I don’t know whether they were actual vuvuzelas, but they certainly lent the tennis matches in Buenos Aires a rowdier atmosphere than would have been tolerated, for example, at the All England Lawn Tennis Club. New York fans are sometimes criticized for brashness and noise at the US Open, but Argentines bring the concept of spectator participation in tennis to new levels.
The difference between New York and Buenos Aires fans, as I see it, lies in the fact that the Argentines appear totally engrossed in the match itself, and their cheering stems from their passion for the sport and the players. While a lot of US Open spectators are there to see great tennis, quite a few come mainly to enjoy a good party.
Argentines, on the other hand, take their tennis seriously. When they announced that Del Potro’s wrist injury would prevent him from playing on Sunday (thus lowering Argentina’s chances of winning vs. the Czech Republic), fans whistled and booed their own countryman off the court. Losing to the Czechs meant their hoped-for final of Argentina vs. Spain wasn’t likely to take place. In fact, current Davis Cup standings put Argentina third in the world group, with the Czech Republic at #2 and Spain at #1.
Undoubtedly the BA fans demonstrate much more enthusiasm at their soccer matches than they do at tennis events. But I love seeing how passionate they are about a sport where spectators traditionally act restrained. Don’t worry, however: I’m not going to order a vuvuzela for cheering on my friends — the USTA probably has a rule against them anyway.