With the decibel ratings of players at Wimbledon poised to scream their way on to today's news agenda, the world's most famous tennis coach, Nick Bollettieri, who has trained some of the most notorious noise-makers in the game, today advocates a series of penalties, up to and including the defaulting of matches, for serial noisy offenders.
The 77-year-old American, who has coached 10 players to be No 1 in the world rankings, including Andre Agassi, has worked with famous "grunters" including Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, all of them multiple Grand Slam-winning champions.
Writing in his daily Wimbledon column in the sports pages of today's Independent, Bollettieri acknowledges that the noise emissions of another of his charges, a 16-year-old Portuguese girl, Michelle Larcher De Brito, has "elevated this issue from a whisper to a roar".
De Brito, who has trained at Bollettieri's academy for years, made waves at the French Open in Paris last month with a noise that goes beyond grunting, or even screaming. It can last for seconds at a time, every time she hits the ball. Her wail has been measured at 109 decibels, or just 11 decibels short of the noise that a plane makes when taking off. Wimbledon fans will get to experience the phenomena first-hand today when De Brito plays in the first round of the ladies' singles. Bollettieri says he can envisage a day when parabolic microphones might be used to record precisely how loud is too loud. It is understood that at least one tabloid newspaper will be in attendance courtside with its own decibel-measuring machine.
In the meantime, Bollettieri advocates a "lower-tech" approach, but one that could nonetheless see a player be defaulted for persistently loud noise-making during play. "A series of graduating penalties – loss of point, loss of game, loss of match – could, and should, be employed," he writes.
Bollettieri does not believe grunting, per se, to be cheating. Indeed he believes Sharapova and others make no more noise than a lot of athletes in other sports where aggressive physical activity is a requirement. But he does believe action is needed when the racket a player makes goes "beyond acceptable natural levels".
Martina Navratilova, a nine-times Wimbledon singles champion, is another critic of the noise-makers, saying she believes grunting is tantamount to cheating. "It has reached an unacceptable level," she said recently. "It is cheating, pure and simple. It is time for something to be done."
The All England Lawn Tennis Club says under the rules of tennis, a point can be awarded to a player if their opponent is thought to have deliberately hindered them during play. By this definition, grunting could already come under the rules, but they lack clarity. Navratilova says the onus is on umpires to be strong. "The player [having to endure grunting by an opponent] should not be having that pressure on her [to call for action] because then you say, 'Do I say something after this point? Do I wait for the changeover? Do I say something? Is it going to get the crowd upset?'
"Then you are thinking about that instead of playing the game. It should not be the player who complains about it, it should be an umpire who says 'You need to cool it down a little bit, this is a warning, do it again and it is a point penalty.' Taking a point penalty is going to stop it."
Sharapova, who once made so much noise at a tournament in Birmingham that a player on an adjoining court complained about her, is also in action at Wimbledon today.
Michelle Larcher De Brito 109 decibels
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