Saturday, September 1, 2007

Stop the Screaming

I just finished watching Maria “Shriekopova” lose at the U.S. Open, leaving me with one less “screamer” to have to deal with (the other 2, Venus and Serena Williams, are still alive as I write this). I almost feel bad that I enjoyed watching a player lose -- negativity is not my normal mindset -- but the decibel levels these 3 women bring to the court are annoying and unnecessary in my opinion.
Andy Roddick can hit a serve 150mph while making hardly a sound; Roger Federer can work his magic in blessed silence, and we hardly hear a peep from diminutive yet powerful Justine Henin. Why, then, can’t these 3 players, and numerous others of lesser stature, play without the constant screeching?
They can, of course, but choose not to when the going gets tough. In many of their matches, all 3 are fairly silent until the points become important. Then, the speakers get turned up, and I turn the volume off. A friend of mine, a tennis pro with decades of experience, tells me he will not watch a match played by Sharapova or the Williams sisters. I have a hunch he’s not alone. I have a plan which, if implemented, could solve this problem.
It is completely within the rules of tennis for a player to petition the umpire if he or she feels the opponent is interfering with their ability to concentrate on the match. Whether it involves movement or sound, a player is not permitted to do anything to cause distraction once the ball crosses the net to the opponent’s side. The speed of shot used in modern tennis guarantees the grunt is going on while the grunter’s opponent is trying to get lined up to return the shot; this could constitute a hindrance. The only person who could correctly say that the "grunt" was a hindrance would be the "grunter's" opponent.
The hindrances would be addressed in the following manner: the first protest would bring a warning. The second would force the point to be replayed. The third, and any subsuquent, protests would force the umpire to give the point to the complaining player.
If I were the opponents of Sharapova, Venus or Serena I would, at every opportunity, protest to the chair umpire whenever the vocal histrionics began. Now, I know what you’re thinking: the complaining player would be accused of gamesmanship, and would doubtlessly save their protests for the biggest points of the match. My answers are: I think these player’s screams constitute gamesmanship at its worst, and always seem to get louder as the points get bigger: break, set or match points always bring screams so loud as to endanger the hearing.
If players knew their “grunts” could cost them points or focus, they would almost universally drop in volume, or cease altogether. Then, we could all watch tennis in peace.