As a fan, I’ve always been more on the rabid than the polite side. Once as a kid I threw a baseball through a window when Craig Nettles of my beloved New York Yankees struck out to end a big rally. My father looked at me incredulously then and said, “What do you get if the Yankees win?” Satisfaction, of course, but then there’s so much more. Even back then I knew that it was fruitless to try and explain to the half-hearted or rational fan what it feels like to root your team onto victory. As an emotionally over-the-top fan, I have to seek out others who view their team’s winning and losing in the same agonized, frenzied manner as I do.This didn’t apply to tennis at first. Growing up I always played on town courts, but I understood tennis was more of a gentlemanly game. It didn’t seem to lend itself to crazed fans. I watched with bemusement when Illie Nastase, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe acted up on the court, but I didn’t have a favorite player who I lived and died with and followed incessantly.It wasn’t so easy to follow tennis in those pre-internet days, but the real dilemma was: How could I devote myself to one player when I couldn’t stand up during a match and yell, especially during a point or to rant a derogatory hiss toward another player? In Yankee Stadium I’d heard plenty of fans bellow, “Ya bum, ya!” but I’d never seen one tennis fan do it.Soon I began writing about sports for newspapers and magazines and slowly, painfully tried to adopt the journalist’s non-partisan demeanor. In the press room at Yankee Stadium or in the media seats at Madison Square Garden, I couldn’t root for my Yankees or Knicks. I felt like I wore a strait-jacket.Clapping, booing, yelling until your voice sounded like a cheerleader’s the day after a big game were all verboten. In its absence was note-taking. When I couldn’t take it any longer, I would abandon the press area, find an open seat in the crowd, hide my press pass inside my collar, and roar to my heart’s content. Around this time, I attended a U.S. Open quarterfinals match between Connors and the 18-year-old Andre Agassi. I was sitting in Louis Armstrong Stadium enjoying the match when I heard a fan scream out, “C’mon, Jimmy. You’re a legend and he’s a punk!” Something within me exploded. A tennis fan had actually broken the quiet by deifying Connors and bashing Agassi. Yes, this is it! I thought. Tennis fans are turning radical! They have a long way to go, but they’re on the road to becoming as crazed as team sport fans. I should point out that there are different levels of crazed tennis fans. There are the truly dark, such as Gunter Parche, an obsessed fan of Steffi Graf’s, who stabbed Monica Seles in the back in 1993. There are Davis Cup fans, such as the “Net-heads” who support the United States team, clanging cow bells, chanting and screaming after nearly every point. And, of course, there is the “J-Block,” James Blake supporters who chant pithy remarks like, “Fire it up, JB,” but draw the line on any “whooping” or chanting of obnoxious comments like, “Get ’er done.” My own conversion to the “dark side” of tennis fandom didn’t occur until 2006, after I had written a book with the veteran tennis pro, Vince Spadea. All through that year, I sat in the stands watching Spadea play matches in Indian Wells, Newport, New Haven and Flushing Meadows. I made my observations, took notes, and exhibited my practiced, stoic “light side” journalistic behavior. What I saw was that Vince, even with all his “Spadea, Ain’t afraid of ya” bravado, really needed fan support. He got down on himself quickly, distracted by a bad lines call, a dawdling ball boy or a belligerent fan rooting for his opponent. He needed someone to pump him up. Three of the four coaches he hired during that year, barely raised their voices to cheer him on. They just sat there nodding their heads, occasionally making averted hand signals, and every once in a while blurting out a “Let’s go, Vince.” When we completed the book and I delivered it to our publisher, the berserk fan in me begging to come out started attending Spadea matches. I wanted to sell books, but mostly I wanted to help Vince kick ass and take down some big tennis heads. When Vince upset Jonas Bjorkman in the second round of the 2006 U.S. Open, I shrieked from my courtside seat and waved a copy of “Break Point” over my head in a victory dance. Suddenly, tennis felt personal—like any die-hard fan will tell you it is—and I had a player who reveled to my exhortations. In Newport the following year, with Spadea playing against arch-rival Justin Gimelstob, my courtside cheering brought not one, but two glowering stares from Gimelstob. Maybe my “yeah’s!” punctuating Vince’s volley winners were said too early while the ball was still in play or maybe Gimelstob felt that a journalist (I had interviewed Justin and used him as a source in a few of my articles), even one with obvious ties to Vince, should not openly root. Jonas Bjorkman and Justin Gimelstob were nice, but certainly they were not the epiphany of Vince and my fan-player wrecking crew. As I sat in Spadea’s box inside Arthur Ashe Stadium at last year’s U.S. Open and looked down upon Vince’s opponent, the former Open champion, Marat Safin, I knew that Vince and I had hit the big time. The two players’ boxes contain fifteen seats each and before the match began, a representative from the U.S.A. Network came down and asked all the seven seat-holders in Vince’s box for our names. Television cameras mostly seek out the coaches and girlfriends and I was sitting right next to Vince’s coach, Davide Sanguinetti. The beauty of the player’s box is that it is located only about 20 feet above the court, just diagonally off the south-side end of the court’s baseline. Both players, when on that side, can clearly hear every distinct comment made. As Vince took the first set, my cheers became louder, more boisterous and I hooted in some well-placed whoops. I even got the mild-mannered Sanguinetti riled up and verbally into the match. He perched at the edge of his seat and began calling out: “Line to line, Vince,” “Believe in yourself” and “Let’s play to win.” I felt possessed, standing up at the end of almost every point and before the beginning of the next, yelling, “C’mon, Vince,” “Right here, Vince,” “You’re breaking him down, Vince.” I was having a blast, feeling giddy; a big conquest seemed in reach. Spadea looked our way often, nodding his head and after big points won, pumping his fist. Safin began shaking his head and Sanguinetti, who had played Safin six times on tour, and beaten him twice, said, “If you can get Safin to combust, Vince will win.” I wasn’t sure if he meant that my exhortations were personally making Safin “combust;” or the combination of Vince’s game and my cheering was making Safin come unglued, but I didn’t ask. I just kept up my verbal assault. But Safin rallied and won the second and third sets. At 4-5 in the fourth set, serving at deuce, Safin was called for a foot fault when his back toe crossed the center line at the start of his motion. Vince won the next point and the set, sending the match into a fifth-and-deciding set, as Safin raged at the umpire and then the tournament director. As the final set began, Safin walked out onto our side of the court and stared directly at me with a disgusted look on his face. I was about to stand up and shake my fist at him in defiance of his stony stare when I recognized the glum look on Safin’s face. It was the same dejected expression I often had as a fan when things didn’t go my way.I thought back to a part in the book where Safin, frustrated by his failures after winning the 2000 Open, told Vince: “Everybody tells me I should be No. 1. Maybe I’m not good enough.” I felt a twinge of kinship with this tortured tennis star. So instead of bellowing, “Finish him off, Vince,” I sat back in my seat and kept quiet. Safin quickly broke Vince and that one break held up as he won the fifth set, 6-4. In the post-match press conference, Safin actually mentioned me, not by name, but by manner. “I have to put myself together,” he said. “Let's try to calm down, let's play some tennis. The guy from Vince's side was shouting every five minutes, Come on Vince; come on Vince. Also it's annoying… I've been already on tour for 10 years, and I want to enjoy my tennis. I don't want to fight anybody. I don't want facing any problems on the court. I just want to enjoy.”Apparently, the reporters in the interview room laughed after Safin made his comment about the “annoying” fan. But when I heard about it, I felt bad. What kind of a crazed fan was I after all? How could I lose track of my allegiance to my player? How could I have let up on a pro tennis player who thinks fans should sit quiet so that he can “enjoy” his game? Pro sports is about winning and losing and putting forth the good fight and as a fan, I want to be right in the middle of that battle. I will be back next season in Vince’s corner, but all I can think about now is that I had Marat Safin on the verge of combusting, and I let him off the hook.