Stephens didn't like this. Right after the point, if you read her lips, she said, "Disrespectful." This tournament has a quirky rule that allows for on-court coaching. Stephens repeated her complaint to her coach.


"Those come ons were just disrespectful," Stephens told her coach. "They're just disrespectful."

"You can belt a few if you want, ya know?" her coach replied. "There ain't nothing wrong with that. If the timing's right, ya know?"


The chair called time.

Stephens's coach then said, unwittingly, "All right kid, come on."

These people don't even know that they're saying it.

Not every come on is the same. There are two main come ons, really. There's the one that's all about getting a tennis player pumped up. As Raonic told me: "I think come on after a good point." He added that he'll say it to "pump myself up." This, by far, is the most commonly used version. It's self-exhortation: Look at that great shot. I needed that!


And then there's the other way to use it: to play mind games.

"A lot of these come ons, they're trying to send a message to their opponent," said Austin. "And there are some who say come on and they're almost in the face of the opponent—I still have trouble with that. Their opponent misses a shot in the net and they're like, Come on! It's like a challenge."


"A lot of this is, unconsciously, to intimidate," said Bodo.

The most notorious come on—"the most infamous come on," Carillo says—was during the 2011 U.S. Open women's final, when Williams was playing Sam Stosur. Williams, whether to intimidate, whether to pump herself up, shouted it out before the point was over. It started a meltdown. Williams lost the point and fought with the chair. ("Aren't you the one that screwed me over last time?") Williams wound up losing in straight sets to Stosur, a shocker.

Whatever their purpose, come on and vamos and allez are now simply a part of tennis, just as surely as a blue court and a yellow ball are a part of tennis. Why? The answer to that question requires a circuitous trip back to days that were, in their way, both more demure and rather less.


Let's start with the modest part first. Did people scream come on in the '70s, '80s, or '90s?

"No," said Austin.

"There was no talking!" Carillo said.

"There was no talking," Austin agreed. "You were not demonstrative like that. It was something that for me, I must say, because I'm kind of a traditionalist, it's been something for me to get used to. Now it's so prevalent—Allez! Come on! Everything else. No, I never said anything. I didn't say a word."


"We had a bunch of old tiebreaks that we were showing during the delay," Carillo said. (She was talking about old tennis matches CBS showed during a rain delay during Monday's telecast.) "Nobody did it. Pete didn't say anything. Even Connors. He didn't emote to himself—he played to the crowd. He didn't have to tell himself to come on."

She continued: "Connors played to the camera once or twice, sure, but we showed Tracy, we showed Capriati and Seles and Chris and Martina and Pete, and it was quiet! The racquets did the talking. It was amazing."


They were quiet, but they were also much crazier, too.

"It's funny, Connors used to complain about how they're gonna drive personality out of the game with all these rules and all that stuff—you know, the reaction to McEnroe and Connors," said Bodo. "I think he was right, but I think what they've done in a weird way is internalized it. So now all that stuff that maybe at one point would have been externalized with linespeople and the crowd or whatever—McEnroe throwing sawdust in the guy's face, Connors shaking the umpire's stand, Nastase screaming at a linesperson—it's all self-contained now, that's the only vehicle. It's the only outlet, in a sense."


Tennis was a crazy sport back then. McEnroe was throwing sawdust in patron's faces. Nastase? Here's a bit from a 1976 UPI piece on the U.S. Open. It described Nastase as a "fiery Romanian" who "blasted one ball at a courtside photographer, smashed a few others at the umpire, cursed the linesmen relentlessly, spat at Hans-Jurgen Pohmann after beating him, tried to climb a fence to get at a young heckler and nearly fought with Pohmann in the locker room."

If those things aren't exactly done anymore—remember just how much people freaked out at Serena Williams for screaming at a lineswoman at the U.S. Open four years ago—tennis players still have lots of crazy energy. They've just diverted it all into a two-word phrase, a controlled explosion.


"The difference is that kind of emotive explosiveness has been now been channeled into what is an acceptable method," Bodo continued. "Very honestly, it's more acceptable to the crowd and the observers in general—the crowd and the pundits—to see these idiotic come ons every two points than it was to see Connors tell someone to suck his dick."

When I asked Isner how often he says come on, he said often enough and added: "So long as it's not a cuss word."


So, come on. An odd two-word phrase started by Lleyton Hewitt, adopted by a few greats, that's spread to every single player in the game, to be shouted and barked and screamed all match long. We're stuck with it now, right?

"This all built up incrementally," said Bodo. "And it became part of the vocabulary. The vocabulary is very limited in tennis. It's supposed a quiet game, you're not supposed to talk, you're not supposed to do anything. Whatever you've got verbally has to go a long way."


He laughed. It can't be stopped.