As Josh Peter describes in a Yahoo! Sports column today, American Sam Querrey is drawing attention not just for his success on the tennis court but for his raucous band of supporters known as the Samurai. (Get it, SAMurai? I'm not gonna lie, it took me a while.)
The group earned added attention this weekend after they helped propel Querrey to a tournament victory Sunday in Los Angeles, in what was his third straight ATP Tour final.
As Peter describes:
The club members wear Samurai headbands, Samurai pants and body paint that spells out - what else? - "SAMURAI." Armed with sturdy vocal cords and a bongo, they are as loud as the 6-foot-6 Querrey is tall. In some cases, they're as well known as Querrey, who entered the tournament here ranked No. 32 in the world and last year pushed Rafael Nadal four sets - winning the second and forcing a tiebreaker in the third - before losing the fourth-round match at the U.S. Open.
Two weeks ago, for example, tournament officials at an ATP stop in Indianapolis flew out five members of the Samurai to help enliven the event. Querrey's posse passed out more than 400 Samurai headbands and dozens of T-shirts.
The group has earned criticism from players and fans, most notably Tommy Haas who said that the Samurai had "no class" after losing to Querrey in the semifinals at Los Angeles.
My take on it is that tennis is too often perceived as a staid, uppity game without much excitement. How can people enjoying tennis be a bad thing? As long as they're not disrespectful during points, what's the problem? Exuberant fans in other sports (like the Cameron Crazies, for instance) are revered. Why not in tennis?
A blogger at GoToTennis explains his objections:
To complain that the Samurai have "no class" is just stating the obvious. We're talking about a swaggering gang of shirtless dudes in bodypaint - just add kegger. And Sam (or his intern) has obviously trained them on a few etiquette basics. I was sitting two rows away - lucky me! - and observed the group applauding Tommy's winners every now and then. They kept their mouths shut during the points and between first and second serves. Sure, they cheered Haas's errors, but nowadays even the players fist pump when their opponents' double fault.
I asked Shane Poppen (he's the "U" in the picture above, directly behind Querrey), a high school friend of Querrey's and the founder of the Samuari's Facebook group, about the perception that the Samurai is somehow disrespecting the game. His response echoed my thoughts, right down to the college basketball analogy:
I don't think it is disrespecting the game at all. We do our best to follow tennis ettique guidelines. We do not cheer on double faults and limit our cheering on unforced errors. A lot of us come from other sporting backgrounds. I have played basketball my whole life and just graduated from UC San Diego where I played four years of college basketball. I am used to crazy fans, that in fact, are much more brutal than we are. For example, my first college basketball game was against Gonzaga University. Try focusing when there are 6,000 fans chanting "AIRBALL". It is not like we are chanting "DOUBLE-FAULT" when a player miscues. Tennis is one of the few sports where a fan is ridiculed for cheering their favorite player on.
What do you think?