Coaching report: Grunting
Monday 22 June 2009
Is it cheating to grunt during play?
Let's get one thing straight right away. I have never taught anyone to grunt. It's just not part of the coaching regime at my academy.
Grunting on the courts may be a lot of things, including annoying, but it certainly isn't cheating, since it's been done under the watchful eyes (and ears) of umpires for decades with few complaints and fewer sanctions.
Three of the top female players of all time – Monica Seles, Serena Williams, and Maria Sharapova - have all been associated with making noise when making impact with the ball.
But to suggest that these women (all of whom, by the way, have trained at my academy) have cheated their way to 32 Grand Slam championships and more than 100 titles is offensive – and wrong.
Grunting is neither new nor uncommon in tennis or, for that matter, many sports that require great physical exertion.
So why is grunting a big deal again today?
What elevated this issue from a whisper to a roar was a recent match in the third round of the French Open in which Michelle Larcher De Brito, a 16-year-old who also trains at the Bollettieri Academy, took the customary noise levels of mere grunting to howling – even shrieking.
Trust me, I was there and it was loud.
Her opponent, Aravane Rezai, who went on to win the match, complained to the umpire who issued an informal warning, but the match – and the wailing – continued unabated.
It raised in my mind whether some sort of regulation, or noise-measuring technology, might be called for. Tennis uses innovation in other areas. You may recall the 2004 US Open quarter-final between Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati in which bad line calls led to Serena being eliminated, and "Hawk-Eye" technology being introduced.
So how should we handle grunting?
If "noise pollution" on the courts intensifies, we may again need to employ technology so that certain offending players are penalised fairly and consistently when they go beyond "acceptable" natural levels. Parabolic microphones, already in widespread use, have the capability of measuring minute sound level and may eventually be required.
However, I would advocate, at least initially, a common-sense "lower-tech" approach which would encourage chair umpires to rule on noise complaints from opposing players or to take the initiative when confronted with obvious unacceptable transgressions.
A series of graduating penalties – loss of point, loss of game, loss of match – could, and should, be employed.
With Wimbledon coming up later this month, there couldn't be a better time, or a better venue, to bring back some peace and quiet – and yes, some dignity – to our sport
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