Lady JJ & Caro against shriekers h:
WTA hearing gripes about players' shrieking
WTA hearing gripes about players' shrieking
"After the match, you go home and you sleep and you still hear that grunting in your mind," says the former No. 1 from Serbia of the excessive noise that continues to vex the women's game.
For the first time in years, the WTA is taking calls for action seriously.
Faced with increased displeasure from fans and a growing chorus of player complaints through the news media, officials have started to conduct "due diligence" by reaching out to constituents, coaches and academies to ensure that the next generation of players tone down what to many has become an unbearable ear sore — and to some borderline cheating.
Grunting made the tour's board meeting during last year's U.S. Open and will be discussed again by the board in March.
"We want to make sure that if anything can be done on this issue it doesn't adversely affect veteran players who were taught to play this way, while still sending a strong signal to young players that excessive grunting is a real problem," WTA spokesman Andrew Walker said Monday at the Australian Open.
Outreach already has begun.
Just a few weeks ago, WTA staffers visited the famed Bollettieri/IMG Academy in Florida, where many conspicuous grunters — from Monica Seles to Maria Sharapova— honed their tennis skills, according to Walker. The academy recently issued a memo on breathing vs. grunting that notes, "The goal is not to beat your opponent with an unfair or unethical tactic."
One of those concerned stands atop the sport — No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark. She blasted grunting at October's WTA Championships in Istanbul.
"I think there are some players who do (grunting) on purpose," the Dane said. "They don't do it in practice and then they come into the match and they grunt. I think they [officials] could definitely cut it."
On Tuesday in Melbourne, Wozniacki said she didn't mind moderate grunting but reiterated her feeling that excessive grunters should be curbed.
"I think they could look into it," she said, referring to tour leaders. "I don't know how they can do it. I'm open for suggestions."
Extreme grunters are nothing new.
High-decibel players such as 1990s standout Seles — known to British tabloids as "Moan-ica" — helped usher in the hindrance rule, whereby an umpire can penalize a player for "deliberate" acts of interference. Serena Williams grew enraged when she was cited for a hindrance violation in September's U.S. Open final loss to Samantha Stosur.
Nor it is the exclusive domain of women. Men grunt, too.
But the perception among fans and players is that men do so in a manner that generally does not impede play. It is not a topic under review by the ATP Tour or its new chief, Brad Drewett.
Experts, coaches and players agree that it is natural and even preferable to expel air when striking the ball. What has become problematic is the length and volume of noises made by players such as Sharapova, Williams and Victoria Azarenka.
Whether inadvertent, deliberate or used for intimidation, players say the practice can throw timing off. Some women have been measured at decibels of 100 or more, comparable to a jackhammer or farm tractor.
"The receiver feels like the ball is coming way faster than it is because of the grunt that comes with the ball," explains says 13th-seeded Jankovic, who plays Kai-Chen Chang of Taiwan in Wednesday's second round. "So you back up a little bit and you think this huge thing is coming at you, almost a bomb, and the ball doesn't really go that fast."
Others such as Americans Christina McHale and Vania King, both first-round winners in Melbourne, take it in stride.
"I actually don't notice it while I'm playing," says McHale, ranked 42nd.
According to tour officials, they once viewed grunting as a "media-driven" issue. But fan complaints increased in recent months, spurring them to explore its effects.
"We felt it was a more material fan issue than it had been in the past," Walker said.
Walker added that it was too early to speculate about what the tour might eventually do, if anything, since the hindrance rule already is on the books.
Still, the topic has not faded as the year's first major unfolds, even if many are perplexed about what to do about it.
"It's very tough and distracting," said two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia. "But (players) don't make it on purpose. For them it's going to be very hard to change. So again it's two sides of the story. Definitely it's disturbing but what (are) the players going to do?"
"The fact the women can practice without grunting tells me they can still play without grunting," notes Chris Evert, who is commentating in Melbourne for ESPN. "I think it's definitely a borderline hindrance and not good for the game."
WTA CEO Stacey Allaster said in Istanbul that it was a "very sensitive" topic. She said technology — specifically, the increased use of microphones on court to pick up the sounds of the ball — might also contribute to a perception of increased noise.
According to Allaster, no players have approached her to complain about excessive grunting.
"Athletes are talking about it, but it's not bothering them," she said.
Jankovic and Wozniacki admit that unless players band together little is likely to change.
"I'm not going to be the only one who stands up and complains," Jankovic said. "Nobody says anything, so it's become normal."