x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Noisy and powerful debate happening on court and off in tennis

After the recent China Open final between Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova the topic of grunting once again comes up. And Ahmed Rizvi there are plenty of people on both sides of the fence on this issue.

Maria Sharapova supports efforts to help younger players learn not to grunt rather than get established players to change their ways.
Maria Sharapova supports efforts to help younger players learn not to grunt rather than get established players to change their ways.

When Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova line up on opposite sides of the net, such as they did on Sunday in the final of the China Open, the issue of grunting in women's tennis inevitably takes centre stage.

And this time, even Novak Djokovic was drawn into the debate.

"Everybody has a different way of expressing themselves on the court," the men's world No 2 said in Beijing, "and if that's been a part of Azarenka's and Sharapova's game throughout their life, that's the way it is. There is no rule that forbids them to grunt.

"In my eyes, it's fine."

Some of the legends of the game, such as Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, however, hold a different view.

In 2009, Navratilova, an 18-time grand slam champion, described it as "cheating, pure and simple", while according to Evert, "as a player - and I was known for my concentration - it is distracting".

The WTA, under pressure from broadcasters, fans and the media, are now working with major academies to muzzle the next generation.

Surprisingly, one of the initiative's most vocal supporters is Sharapova.

"That's the smart way to go about it, rather than, like, taking someone's forehand and grip in the middle of their career and telling them to change it," the Russian told Reuters.

The WTA will most likely focus on Nick Bollettieri's academy in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, which has produced some of the game's biggest grunters, such as Sharapova. Bollettieri has denied grunting is something players are taught to do at his academy.

"I think that if you look at other sports ... the exhaling is a release of energy in a constructive way," he said.

Medical opinion seems to back that theory.

"Some grunting does improve your power," Dr Neeru Jayanthi, a sports medicine physician at Loyola University in Chicago, told The Star newspaper in 2010.

"Some players can squeeze another four or five miles an hour out of their forehand and serve."

Doug Richards, a leading sport physician and medical director of the MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic at the University of Toronto, said: "Loud grunting activates abdominal and back muscles which can increase power for hitting, punching, throwing, jumping or swinging a racket."

Evert, however, has scoffed at those suggestions.

"I don't understand," she said.

"They say you've got to blow air out before you hit the ball and I'm thinking 'well, Steffi Graf hit the ball a ton and she didn't grunt'."

Most fans would concur with Evert, but with no resolution in sight, perhaps it is time to move on.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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