Game takes action against grunters

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The Independent Online

By Paul Newmanin istanbul

Wimbledon has asked the professional game to do something about it, Michael Stich once called it "disgusting, ugly, unsexy", while world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki says it can adversely affect an opponent and some players do it deliberately. With spectators and TV viewers increasingly put off by the grunting and shrieking of female players, the Women's Tennis Association is seeking to reduce decibel levels on court.

Stacey Allaster, chairman and chief executive of the body that runs the women's tour, revealed at the season-ending WTA Championships here that young players are to be targeted. One of the first moves will be to talk to juniors at Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida, which has produced some of the noisiest players – although Mr Bollettieri insists he and his coaches have never encouraged players to grunt.

Ms Allaster said the WTA had noticed a "slight increase" in fans' complaints about grunting. "On that basis, we should look at it," she said. "The athletes of today have trained their entire lives and prepared to compete the way they do. So [we need] some education with the juniors. We're working with the International Tennis Federation. Our team will go down to Bollettieri's and meet coaches and young players."

Grunting had been "part of our sport for years", Ms Allaster said, but improved technology had made TV viewers in particular more aware of it. "There are more microphones, there's digital quality of sound and it is amplified," she said. "Grunting is a normal part of our sport. The guys are grunting as well. But our female DNA transmits it in a different way."

While there are men who grunt – Rafael Nadal is a notable groaner – it is the pitch of the noise made by some of the women that has particularly grated with fans. Victoria Azarenka, the world No 4 from Belarus, lets out high-pitched wails, each of which can last a second and a half, while former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova's grunt is more like a shriek or a scream.

Sharapova trained at the Bollettieri academy. Portuguese player Michelle Larcher de Brito, who at 18 is one of the youngest of today's screamers, is also a Bollettieri product.

Grunters usually say the noise comes naturally to them, as part of their action in hitting a shot. But the normally easy-going Wozniacki – who is not a grunter – does not believe that is always the case. "I think there are some players who do it on purpose," the Dane said. "They don't do it in practice, they come in the match and they grunt. I think they could definitely cut it."

Wozniacki thinks grunting can give players an advantage. "If you grunt really loudly, your opponent cannot hear how you hit the ball," she said.

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