To many tennis enthusiasts, the sound is about as enjoyable as a car alarm or a smartphone flood warning. And two years ago, the WTA acknowledged loud grunts and shrieks had provoked a stream of complaints from fans.
So in 2012, the WTA announced that along with other governing bodies of the sport, it was launching an initiative -- with no timetable -- to begin educating budding players in breathing techniques to lower the volume and to “eventually” adopt a rule against noises deemed “too loud.” As for doing something about current players, tour CEO Stacey Allaster told “Outside the Lines” at the time, “I wish I could.”
In response Monday to a recent ESPN request for an interview with Allaster about developments on the issue, the WTA provided a memorandum saying, “In an ongoing effort to inform the tennis-wide community regarding forthcoming changes to regulation regarding excessive grunting, [it has] outreached to over 1,875 players, coaches, parents and administration to date.”
The memo stated that the WTA had conducted roundtable conversations with an additional 120 players two years ago about the tour’s shared concerns with fans and its commitment to “address the issue,” and cited a list of 25 international tournaments, coaching conferences, training centers and academies it has reached so far on “how to avoid excessive grunting.”
“Grunting is part of the game, but clearly excessive grunting can be a distraction,” according to a WTA statement Monday.
Two years ago, Allaster had said the loud noise was “having no impact on competition.” But others, like Martina Navratilova, have long maintained that noise loud enough to obscure the sound of a racket hitting a ball compromises an opponent’s reaction time. (This week ESPN’s Sport Science explores the issue.)
Allaster said two years ago she expected the tour to eventually provide chair umpires with “noise meters” to assess penalties for “excessive grunting.” In Monday’s statement, the WTA said it has “begun scientific research on sound levels” in different environments and that the “development and implementation of an objective rule change is in discussion as we gather additional information.”
But there was no mention of a timetable or specific plan.
Perhaps the only thing that’s certain at this point is that the noise from the likes of Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and some of their colleagues has not lessened.
“It’s as loud as ever,” veteran tennis coach Nick Bollettieri said this weekend when asked about grunting at the pro level. Bollettieri tutored a young Sharapova and other famed grunters such as Monica Seles, the first player to achieve notoriety for the noise.
But as reported by “Outside the Lines” two years ago, Bollettieri had consulted with the WTA on how to quiet things down, and his IMG Bollettieri Academy had begun teaching young players that excessive grunting is poor sportsmanship and a poor breathing technique.
Perhaps fittingly, Bollettieri’s International Tennis Hall of Fame induction speech this summer drew noise interference -- from a car alarm.
And Sunday at the US Open, a reporter’s mobile phone blared a flood warning, in the middle of Sharapova’s press conference following her loss to Caroline Wozniacki.
Neither Bollettieri nor Sharapova, two of the names most often linked to loud noise in tennis, was deterred from continuing.