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Source: USA TodayUmpires to get a grunt-o-meter in new WTA plan
WIMBLEDON, England – The pin-drop quiet of Wimbledon's Centre Court long has showcased women tennis' best players as well as its noisiest.
By Susan Mullane, US Presswire
That could be a thing of the past at the All England Club and elsewhere if a plan agreed upon to expunge unwarranted noise with technology, rule changes and education comes to fruition.
"It's time for us to drive excessive grunting out of the game for future generations," WTA chairman and chief executive Stacey Allaster said.
The umbrella scenario, unanimously green-lighted this month at Roland Garros in Paris by representatives of the four majors, the International Tennis Federation and the WTA players' council, would include:
• The development of a handheld device — a kind of Hawk-Eye for noise — for umpires to objectively measure on-court grunting levels.
• A new rule setting acceptable and non-acceptable noise levels based on acoustical data gathering and analysis.
• Education at large tennis academies, national development programs and at all levels of junior and lower-tier professional events.
"I'm not going to use that word," said Allaster in an interview Monday when asked if the portable device would be akin to the grunt-o-meters sometimes used at Wimbledon to measure egregious offenders such as Monica Seles and top-ranked Maria Sharapova. "The bottom line is that we want to bring forward across all levels of competition an objective rule through use of technology to make it much easier for athletes and chair umpires."
The current generation of players will not be affected by the plan, a decision made by the WTA earlier this year.
Allaster said the WTA had consulted experts in the field of sports science and psychology such as Rick Jensen, founder and director of Florida-based Performance Center; noted coach Nick Bollettieri; and past and present players, from Billie Jean King and Seles to Serena and Venus Williams (both players' council members).
The conclusion: It would be unfair and unreasonable to make today's stars revamp their ingrained motor skills and breathing techniques that the WTA had no hand in developing in the first place.
"What is clear from experts is that it would have a clear, damaging effect on performance of the existing generation," Allaster said.
She gave no timetable about when the plan would be in place.
An outside acoustic consultant will be hired to conduct tests in various conditions, venues and surfaces to develop a cost-effective instrument for umpires on court. The game's various stakeholders will be consulted to determine how the new rule will be written and implemented.
"It's going to take some time," Allaster explained. "I don't want to get ahead of ourselves because it's a collective effort of the sport and we need everyone to buy in."
Nine-time Wimbledon singles champion Martina Navratilova, an outspoken critic of high-decibel levels in the sport, applauded the initiative but scoffed at the pace of implementation.
"I think it's a great idea, but speed it up," she said Monday. "You do not need a year to get used to not making a noise when you play tennis."
The WTA was forced to deal with grunting in the wake of continued negative fan and media reaction. Late last year officials said they would take up the issue in earnest.
Some top players such as former No. 1s Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark and Jelena Jankovic of Serbia called publicly for a crackdown on excessive noise made by the likes of Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka— the reigning French Open and Australian Open champions — because it is disruptive and borders on gamesmanship.
"Good luck trying to make top players" stop, American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who sits on the WTA players' council said Monday. "More importantly, fans are bothered by it. It's important that we address it quickly."
The criticism leveled at women has caused some to point out that male players also grunt — some quite loudly. The issue is not perceived to be a problem on the ATP World Tour and has not been raised, according to ATP spokeswoman Kate Gordon.
"The women are definitely louder and more abrasive," Navratilova said.
The WTA, which likens its approach to that of the Major League Baseball's gradual phase-out of chewing tobacco, intends to introduce its plan at academies and other training venues on 20 occasions in the next year, including the famed Florida Bollettieri/IMG Academy, where it has already begun. They will talk to players, coaches and parents, too.
"Stacey Allaster and the sport are doing the right thing by focusing on the next generation of players, and are being very, very thorough in their approach," said women's tour founder Billie Jean King in a statement provided by the WTA. "I have full confidence that the sport will put forth a plan that addresses excessive grunting that works for the fans, the players and the tournaments."
The ITF, which oversees the four Grand Slam tournaments and lower-tier Future and Challenger events, will make a presentation to some athletes during Wimbledon.
"We are going to let them know that at a point in time there will be a new rule in place where we are going to bring the noise level down," Allaster said. "The sooner we can get them to alter the breathing technique the more success we can have."
Asked about the hindrance rule, which is already on the books, Allaster said it was too subjective.
"What is too loud?" she said. "What is too long? We need to give the official an objective measurement tool. Can you imagine on a critical point an umpire going, 'Oh, I thought you were too loud.' You have to take all of that out of the equation. It's not fair to athletes, the chair or the sport."