Tennis: 10 Most Intimidating Faces in the Players' Box
How do you transform a lovely woman into a leering gargoyle?
Break her son’s serve in the fourth set of a Majors’ final.
The mothers, camp followers, kin, coaches and lovers that populate the players' boxes must live every point and foot fault like it’s their own, without the sanity of sweat.
Players may froth and pout, but tennis etiquette demands their faction keep it corked.
Go on. Hollaback, Mirka Federer. Lob the diaper bag.
Make that throat-slitting gesture, Yuri Sharapov. Your little girl’s love is sweeter than honey. But guess what? So is the money.
For fans and opponents alike: a profile of the 10 fiercest faces in the crowd.
No. 10: Judy Murray
Sometimes the glowing matriarch, otherwise an imperious she-ghoul. Andy Murray’s mother and longtime coach is a dominating presence.
An esteemed player herself, 52-year-old Judy is the captain of Great Britain’s Fed Cup team. She’s won respect, as well as the reputation of a hatchet.
Shawled and vigilant, Judy alone seemed impervious to the Flushing Meadows’ windstorms. Like a proud parent.
Or Lady Macbeth upon the battlements.
But the mother of the U.S. Open champ is not above insider flack. Ripping Judy’s Twittery crush on Spain’s Feliciano Lopez, Andy told reporters “[It] makes me want to throw up.”
No. 9: Uncle Toni Nadal
Verbal abuse, balls flying at his young head, sweeping the court after the other boys go home – Raphael Nadal’s biography can read like a Dickens tome. And the shadowy, menacing taskmaster at the heart of the story is the less-than-avuncular Uncle Toni.
Antonio "Toni" Nadal Homar, 51, remains his nephew’s coach and moral rod. With his falcon eyes and white Iberostar ball cap, Toni is as notorious for his nationalistic rants as the advice he barks from the grandstands.
But, for now, the tale of discipline and hard knocks is crafting a happy ending. Raphael writes: “If I hadn’t cried as I did at the injustice and abuse he heaped on me, maybe I would not be the player I am today.”
No. 8: Irina Davydenko
Amongst the bevy of bleacher blondes in insect sunglasses, Irina Davydenko stands out.
Maybe it’s the gambling investigation from 2007, or her sense of both game and fur lining.
Or perhaps it’s her enduring matrimony (and sometime coaching) to Nikolay the "Iron Man," who grinds out more tournaments in a year than almost anyone.
No. 7: Yuri Sharapov
With his penchant for dark shades and camouflage sweatshirts, Yuri Sharapov has been labeled "publicly tyrannical."
Competitors can’t be faulted if they quail under his glare. The only opponent Yuri is known to have fled is Chernobyl.
Less of a bleacher fixture these days at Maria Sharapova’s matches, Yuri memorably ordered his daughter to down a banana between U.S. Open games in 2006. Like other despotic kin, he has habitually flouted protocol by coaching Maria during matches.
No. 6: Damir Dokic
Even as his daughter slips in the rankings, Damir Dokic—Jelena’s father—is high on the infamy list.
The Serbian’s rap sheet includes a Grand Slam ejection for quarreling over the lunch menu, a WTA banning and widespread reproach for his match-fixing accusations.
He also condemned the Vatican for brainwashing his daughter when she switched loyalties to Australia, threatening to "kill an Australian in revenge."
Ironically, Jelena’s last notable match was at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston. It was a loss.
No. 5: Stacey Gardner
Amongst the "Fishheads"—partisans of World No. 22 Mardy Fish—Stacey Gardner is the brooding brunette.
Model by night (she’s suitcase No. 2 on NBC’s Deal or No Deal), Gardner is also a practicing attorney in California. She graduated from Southwestern Law School and passed the bar exam in 2005.
No. 4: Tiger Woods
Maybe because both legends are facing career arc. Maybe it’s the preference of Federer’s wife, the indomitable Mirka.
For a time, though, Woods’s stony visage in the stands was like a testament to excellence. Greatness clinging to greatness.
News that the vibes are still flying between the two can’t be dismissed.
No. 3 Stefan Wauters
Kim Clijsters's husband may be a 6’6" former pro basketball player, and her raven-haired nanny is no slouch, but the severest frown on Team Clijsters belongs to Stefan Wauters—her longtime friend and sparring partner.
Fans and competitors won’t have long to abide Wauters’s furrowed brow. Clijsters plays her farewell match in December.
No. 2: Venus Williams
Her father may be a PR bane.
Her mother just may be the brains and guts of the operation.
But Serena Williams’s nuclear option has always been Venus.
Combining the talent of the Mannings with Van Halen rock glam, the Williams sisters from Compton have preserved women’s tennis from genteel stagnation.
For 12 years. Together.
And if Serena’s slaying forehand and Olympic gold aren't daunting, glimpsing the 5-time Wimbledon champion in her corner surely is.
No. 1: Ivan Lendl
Icon at the helm.
Ivan Lendl is more than a cagey coach and stoic counterweight for Andy Murray. His presence exudes been there, won that.
Lendl is living testimony that breakthroughs happen. That four-times empty doesn’t make a fifth.
He’s also a living legend who doesn’t throw his lot in lightly.
Lendl went on to stake eight Slam titles and a storied career. So when he says the first time is the toughest, players take note.