<p>If there are times when tennis officials and announcers warrant some sympathy, then the first few days of a major tournament like Wimbledon would be one of them. Hundreds of matches in singles and doubles featuring players from Argentina to Uzbekistan are a linguistic gauntlet of the highest order. On the women’s side alone, there were first-round contests between Scheepers and Shvedova, Gajdosova and Zaniewska, and Foretz Gacon and Niculescu.
And there was chair umpire Pascal Maria on Court 7 on Tuesday, overseeing a match between Alex Bogomolov Jr and Alexandr Dolgopolov. It was a tongue twister, and calling the players by their first names — Advantage, Alex? — was not an option.
Before calling Serena Williams’s match against Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic on Tuesday, Mike Tirico of ESPN recited Zahlavova Strycova about 15 times “just to have a small imprint on my brain.” Then he met with his partners for the telecast, Mary Joe Fernandez and Pam Shriver, to discuss — and agree upon — the pronunciation. They settled on the version provided in the WTA media guide: zah-lah-VOH-vuh STRIT-so-vuh.
David Mercer, a commentator for BBC who also served as a chair umpire here from 1973 to 1984, is attending his 39th Wimbledon. Many of the taxing names that he has uttered over the years — Kamiwazumi, Amanmuradova, Kalogeropoulos — roll off his tongue as easily as Roddick or Federer, a gift he attributes to repetition and providence.
Still, he prepares for every match by scrawling phonetic pronunciations of a player on an index card in pencil, having dealt a few years ago with Dinara Safina’s indecisiveness.
“Everyone had been calling her suh-FEE-nah, and then she said, ‘I want to be called SAH-fin-uh,’ which is the correct one,” Mercer says. “Then she said, ‘I’m getting fed up with this. I want to be called suh-FEE-nah again.’ So what do you do? I erased it twice.”
The Safina story illuminates a greater issue for broadcasters and officials, who confront what could be described as the authenticity conundrum. Do they pronounce a Russian name as if in Moscow, or do they globalise it, as it is said on the circuit. After all, the proper way to articulate Maria Sharapova’s surname is not the Anglicised style of shah-rah-POH-vuh, but rather shah-RAH-poh-vuh.
“It’s some combination of honoring the regular pronunciation while understanding that you can’t be completely authentic,” says Chris Fowler, ESPN’s primary tennis host since 2003, who then trots out his best Spanish intonation in speaking Rafael Nadal’s name aloud. “You’d sound like an idiot if you tried to be authentic.”
Mercer opens a pronunciation guide that BBC gave its talent before the 2004 Wimbledon. He keeps it among his notes, even though the network’s pronunciation unit offers advice to its on-screen team before the tournament and follows up by e-mailing daily updates. Pointing to the phonetic spelling for David Ferrer of Spain — davveeth ferrair — Mercer says, “I couldn’t call him Davveeth. People would say, ‘For God’s sake, he’s David.’”
If he is uncertain about a name, Mercer will often check with a journalist from that country, as he intended to do before saying Andrea Hlavackova a few dozen times during her loss Wednesday to Kim Clijsters. Alternatively, he, like Fowler, will defer to the pronunciation of the chair umpire, who does not receive formal training but is expected to check with each player.
Glancing at his match assignments Tuesday morning, Maria spies the Dolgopolov-Bogomolov duel and says, “Oof, that can be tricky.” But he makes only one mistake, announcing, “Advantage, Bogomolov,” when he means Dolgopolov. “Lucky me,” Maria says.
These enunciation nightmares are at the mercy of the draw, which did not produce a Robin Haase-Tommy Haas meeting or a contest between Caroline Wozniacki and Aleksandra Wozniak, whose last meeting in their eight-match rivalry came in the second round of the 2011 French Open.
The Dolgopolov-Bogomolov match so inspired David Law, a tennis commentator for BBC Radio, that he joked with colleagues Monday that they were auditioning for the right to announce it. Alas, it was on a backcourt, and no one did. He proceeded to ask his Twitter followers to conceive the grandest commentary challenge. A distinctly Spanish flavour suffused the winning entry: María José Martínez Sánchez and Lourdes Dominguez Lino versus Anabel Medina Garrigues and Carla Suárez Navarro.
His improvisational skills were most vital for a 2003 Australian Open quarterfinal between Juan Carlos Ferrero and Wayne Ferreira. To avoid confusion, sometimes he would describe the shots hit by one player. Others, referred to the players by their nationalities — the Spaniard and the South African.
Unlike WTA, which devotes Page 45 of its media guide to pronunciation, ATP has no such manual. It does, however, intend to record sound bytes of the proper pronunciation and place them on the Internet soon. When that day comes, Milos Raonic, a 21-year-old Canadian, will be grateful.
Raonic says he has heard so many different pronunciations — everything, it seems, but the correct one, MEE-lohsh ROW-nich — that he has taken to saying it different ways. “I think if I get the results, my name will eventually be pronounced right,” Raonic says.
Told that even a champion like Novak Djokovic still deals with the problem — is it JOE-kuh-vich, or JAH-kuh-vich? — Raonic unfurls a slight smile. “Well, it’s cut down to two possibilities,” Raonic says. “Probably from a hundred before.”
© 2012 The New York Times