For crying out loud, it’s time tennis turned down the sound

Date: January 19, 2018 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Tennis has descended into farce as a result of inactivity by the sport’s authorities.

The lack of desire to quell the ever increasing grunting, shrieking and squealing by players has turned a lot of people off the sport.

Rather than stepping in when the problem first emerged in the days of Jimmy Connors and Monica Seles, tennis administrators allowed the problem to blossom.

Instead of stopping the snowball before it gathered pace, authorities stood by and watched it hurtle down the mountain side to a point where it is now a giant blight on the sport.

Once again, crowds at the Australian Open and those watching on TV screens around the globe are being ‘treated’ to absurd levels of player generated noise.

And most likely fans will be exposed to it through the remaining grand slams in 2018 and beyond.

In January 2003, I was commentating on the Hopman Cup in Perth for ABC Television.

Serena Williams was representing the United States that year and it was fascinating to watch her early morning training sessions where she would go through various drills before playing a full practice set against local Perth pro, Mark Hlawaty.

Serena was striking the ball every bit as hard as she did in a match – running from side to side, straining and stretching – and doing it all with barely a sound.

A few hours later she took the court in earnest and she was a totally different player.

The same effort and power was evident but this time it was allied to high decibel grunting and screeching.

It was not the only time I witnessed such chameleon-like changes from some of the world’s top players.

So why do they undergo this transformation?

All-time great, Martina Navratilova has always steadfastly maintained that it is simply a form of cheating.

She says the noise generated by players drowns out the sound of the ball leaving their racquet and as such removes an important cue as to the force and spin that has been imparted on the ball.

It is one of the quirks of the sport at the highest level that the audience is instructed to maintain silence whilst a point is in progress yet there is no such codicil placed on the participants.

The issue of grunting is having a significant impact on how many view the sport.

It came to the fore again on Tuesday when Australian Ash Barty took on Belarussian Aryna Sabalenka in the first round at Melbourne Park.

Much of Sabalenka’s ear piercing screeches emanated after the ball had left her racquet, which flies in the face of the argument by defenders of the grunt that it is due to the effort being put into playing the shot.

Numerous players still squeal even when playing delicate drop shots.

Social media was awash with comments from those who found Sabalenka’s actions over the top.

Many voted with their remotes – either muting their television or simply switching channels.

The Herald Sun conducted an online poll, asking whether Sabalenka’s grunting had gone too far?

There were 5,400 respondents with 95 per cent saying it did.

Yet, again, it is unlikely that those that run the sport will make any changes to the rules.

Surely those that run the sport should be paying heed to those who support it.

People are switching off due to the ridiculousness of some players’ behaviour.

The best thing that the sport’s governors could do is phase in rules that will see players revert to the days of old where they performed in relative silence.

Either that or let the fans loose and allow them to hoot and holler during points.

The authorities should put players on notice that the rules will be changed, just as golf did when it alerted players that broomstick putters would be outlawed.

Currently, the chair umpire can impose a point penalty if they believe a player has hindered their opponent.

That rule never sees the light of day when it comes to the audible carry on akin to Sabalenka the other day.

If the authorities truly cared about the sport’s image they would draw a line in the sand.

Give a date in the future – perhaps 1 January – where action will be taken against those players who continue to be a blight on the sport.

A warning, followed by loss of a point, then game and ultimately the match for those who refuse to comply.

Surely, over the next 11 months players would be able to modify their actions.

Because, as it currently stands, most of them can practice at match intensity with little, if any, sound.

Carrying that approach into actual match play cannot be that difficult with sufficient warning.

If not, fans will continue to seek alternative forms of entertainment.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 19 January 2018, soliciting 38 comments