Dear Readers, here's a guest post from sportswriter and tennis fan David Fearnhead voicing his discontent with Maria Sharapova's screaming. Do you share his opinion?
Buried somewhere in the tennis rule book is an article on hinderance. It states that "If a player is hindered by an opponent then he or she wins the point, unless it's unintentional, in which case the point is replayed." Much of the implementation of this law is down to the umpire. There are obvious cases where this has been used. Remember the beads of Venus Williams’ hair falling out and spraying all over the court during the ’99 Australian Open, or more recently Elena Dementieva’s troublesome hat.
However an old adversary of the Women’s game is rearing its ugly head once more – grunting. I agree with Nick Bollettieri’s assertion that when you’re putting all into hitting the ball as hard as you can you are going to make some noise as you exhale, but there is a world of difference from these breathy strains and the outright screaming of some players.
Nobody expects players to remain completely silent. There should, however, be limits. Exhibit A for the prosecution would be the clash between the talented Czech player Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova and Maria Sharapova at this year’s Wimbledon. This third round match-up had everything for a thrilling encounter. Sharapova was finally coming back into form and Zahlavova-Strycova had just come through a three-setter in which she ousted the number 24 seed Daniela Hantuchova.
Sharapova took it in two sets, edging the first 7-5 followed by a more comfortable 6-3 in the second. However this does not tell the full story of the match. Sure at times it seemed like hawkeye was deliberately favouring Sharapova, and you have to applaud the Russian’s ability to read the lines and know when to challenge, but one niggling doubt over the legitimacy of that victory remains. On that afternoon number one court echoed to the constant screams of the 16th seed. These were not the strains of player trying to put every ounce of herself into every strike, but a seemingly deliberate attempt to destabilize her opponent.
The defence may argue it’s habit, that Sharapova has always screamed when hitting the ball hard. To stop her from doing so would interfere with the rhythm of her game. This may well be so, but why then did she also make the same noise when playing a soft drop shot? The simple answer to that would appear to be that if she stopped the scream when making a drop shot then her opponent would know and be ready for it. This then is a deliberate deception through noise, and surely that is "hinderance".
More than once Zahlavova-Strycova was heard to mutter to the skies about the unnatural amount of noise coming over from the other side of the net. The umpire did nothing. Zahlavova-Strycova could have complained but then that would risk getting the crowd on her back and the umpire would probably have done nothing about it anyway. So the Czech player was in a lose/lose situation, unsettled in an unfair manner and unable to do anything about the cause of her complaint.
Sharapova is not the only guilty target. The Williams sisters seem to turn up the noise too when under pressure. Some might also point out Victoria Azarenka, but her elongated sound is a more natural and tracks perfectly with the flight of the ball. I find her to be an honest player. I’m yet to hear her elongate a scream when she’s playing drop shot. If anything it’s more beneficial to her opponents as they can tell the speed she’s put on the ball.
Of course mental strength is all part of the game, but surely it’s about time the WTA stepped in to stop the unsettling screams which are many people’s first reason for switching off Women’s tennis.
David Fearnhead is a freelance sportswriter and author.
His novel Bailey of the Saints will be published later this year.
(photo by Stephane Martinache)