GRUNTING BRINGS GRUMBLING AS SELES REACHES SEMIFINALS
Daily News of Los Angeles
Wednesday, July 1, 1992
Steve Wilstein, Associated Press
Grunting, like snoring, is tough to stop. Just ask Monica Seles, who faces a player uprising over her shrill, two-tone braying on every shot.
"Muzzle Monica" is the war cry at Wimbledon as she moves into the semifinals for the first time to meet nine-time champion Martina Navratilova.
Defending champion Steffi Graf also is in the semis, but she won't know her opponent until today. A stormy, rain-delayed session ended Tuesday with the crowd grumbling over the suspension of the Gabriela Sabatini-Jennifer Capriati match. Sabatini was about to serve for the match in the squinting dusk at 6-1, 3-6, 5-3.
No one wanted to leave except Capriati, who was eager to play on after winning the second set, but then asked for a suspension when she fell behind, 5-2, in the third.
If the women can't beat Seles, and so far nobody has in 40 straight Grand Slam matches over two years, the new strategy seems to be to silence her.
Nathalie Tauziat fired the first salvo on the grunt front Tuesday, lodging an official complaint with the umpire, and Navratilova also blasted Seles' yowls.
"As the match advanced, she screamed a lot, a lot, a lot," Tauziat said after losing, 6-1, 6-3, in the quarterfinals. "It's very important for me to listen to the ball when she hit the ball, and I couldn't listen. That's why I asked the umpire, 'Can she scream less?' It was too late anyway."
Tauziat didn't ask the umpire to try to muffle Seles until it was 5-3 in the second set, and Seles' groaning groundstrokes had been speeding past the Frenchwoman for nearly an hour.
The umpire, David Crymble, called Seles over to the chair to relay Tauziat's request for a gag order. Seles listened, said OK, and hustled back to serve out the match at a slightly lower decibel level.
The "gruntometers" at courtside, which last week registered Seles' sounds somewhere between a train and a pneumatic drill, hardly budged.
Seles, in the Wimbledon semifinals for the first time in three tries, doesn't have any quarrel with those who would like her to muffle her high- pitched noises. She just hasn't figured out how to stop something she's being doing since she first began pounding tennis balls.
"I'm really trying to get rid of it," she said. "You don't know how hard I'm trying. When I'm doing it, I'm not realizing I'm doing it. I'm not doing it on purpose to hurt anybody, but I don't think I'm going to win a match because I'm grunting. I don't think she lost today because I was grunting."
She argued that it is unfair that she's singled out for her grunting when so many other players do it. Jimmy Connors has been doing it for 20 years, and John McEnroe's grunts get louder every year. Sabatini and Capriati growl, as does Navratilova on occasion.
But somehow none of those disturb players and fans the way Seles' unladylike noises do.
"I won't watch Monica Seles because she grunts," said Mardi Cone, a Cincinnati native living in London for 20 years. "She's a brilliant player, but I just can't take it. My husband and I have tickets to the women's final, but I refuse to go because Monica will be in it. My husband is going to find someone else to go."
In order for Seles to reach the final, though, she'll have to get by Navratilova, who beat Katerina Maleeva, 6-3, 7-6 (7-2), Tuesday.
At 35, Navratilova is still dangerous on the grass she loves so dearly. The prospect of playing Seles doesn't worry her a bit.
"What have I to be afraid of?" Navratilova asked. "It's not like you're going to be boxing or anything, where you may get your head knocked off. I don't play Monica; I play the ball. I have absolutely nothing to be afraid of."
And the grunt?
"That's not up to me to control. That's up to the umpire," she said. ''In practice she doesn't make any noise, so I don't think she has to make that much noise. It's distracting in that you don't hear the ball being struck.
"You depend on hearing the ball hit the racket. You don't see it. You hear it first, then you see it. When people mis-hit a ball, or the way they hit it, you react to the sound of the ball being hit on the racket. When you can't hear it, that is difficult. To that effect, it is a disadvantage."
Graf, a 6-3, 6-1 winner over Natalia Zvereva, will have to cope with a noisy and tough opponent no matter whom she plays.
Capriati and Sabatini went at each other with all the vigor of a rivalry that dates back three years, when Sabatini handed Capriati her first loss as a professional at age 13.
Sabatini kept digging herself out of trouble in the first set, opening up each of four service games at 0-30. She fought off all but one of six break points in the set, and broke Capriati three straight times.
It was hard to see in the dark, cloudy evening when the match began about 7 p.m., but the sky brightened a bit midway through the second set. Capriati finally held to open the first set, and after an exchange of breaks, went ahead, 5-3, when Sabatini double-faulted and was broken at love. Capriati served out the set and, with a nod of approval from her father-coach Stefano, told the umpire she wanted to go on with the match.
The sky at the time, 8:21 p.m., was no darker than at the start of the match.
Sabatini, though, took the offensive and a 3-0 lead as she got going on a 12-point run. Capriati broke back to make it 3-2, hitting a perfect backhand drop shot with Sabatini back by the baseline.
But Capriati again ran into trouble on her service, finally dropping it to 4-2 after a courageous rally by both players. The final point came as Sabatini dropped a short forehand crosscourt, Capriati raced into to scoop it up with a backhand, and Sabatini put it away crosscourt.
On the changeover at 5-2 after Sabatini held following another of their superb rallies, Capriati requested a suspension. Referee Alan Mills came out and agreed to bring the match to a halt if Sabatini didn't win it on Capriati's next service.
Capriati scrapped to hold after seemingly endless rallies. She gained the advantage after a duel that included a drop shot by Sabatini, another scoop by Capriati, a backhand response and a reflex backhand volley winner by Capriati. When Sabatini slapped the next serve into the net, both players went to the side to pack up their rackets. The only loser was the crowd.
A match suspended Monday was completed before the women took Centre Court in the first day of rain so far in the tournament.
Boris Becker, ever the gentleman, danced quickly into the quarters and inconvenienced the ladies as little as possible on a schedule-switching day.
Becker did a version of a moonwalk after one spectacular running backhand down the line during his 6-1, fifth-set dismissal of Wayne Ferreira in the half-hour completion of a suspended match.
"I had the perfect start today; he had the perfect start yesterday," said Becker, who exaggerated only slightly. He won eight of the first nine points Tuesday, breaking Ferreira at love in the second game en route to a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (8-6), 6-1 victory.
Seles, scheduled to open play on Centre Court more than three hours before Becker began, had to wait until he finished. But that was really only the start of the commotion on the slightly crazy day.