Where are the noise police? Who will protect our eardrums? Is the women’s game, normally a fine shooting match, degenerating into a shouting match? Has sportsmanship gone the way of the typewriter?
These were some of the questions raised Friday as the multitude of 15,000 booed and whistled their disapproval of a new kid on the block named Michelle Larcher de Brito. The French are first-class whistlers, and when they chirp it can be cutting. So sharp that it brought tears to Michelle’s 16-year-old face. The locals didn’t care for her shrieking throughout a 7-6 (7-3), 6-2, loss to France’s Aravane Rezai. Or the kid’s brushing off the traditional congratulatory handclasp with a passing-by touch of the victor’s outstretched hand.
Larcher de Brito, a Portuguese who has trained at Nick Bollettieri’s renowned boot camp in Bradenton, Fla., and looks like a genuine prospect, has been outstanding as far as playing the game. She broke through to three wins in the qualifying tournament, and two more in the big show, her first major.
Rezai complained to the umpire about Larcher de Brito’s wailing that extended beyond her striking the ball and into her foe’s concentration and swinging zone. Her holding pitch longer and more bothersome to the opponent is something new in the history of female vocalizing. Some would consider the too-much-sound a hindrance. Umpires are empowered to hand an offender a “warning” for the first offense and point penalties thereafter.
The kid was called to the umpire’s chair during the match, but not told to shut up. Why? Because, shrewdly Michelle asked why Maria [Sharapova] was never penalized.
Is any umpire going to hand out point penalties to the leading howling offenders: Sharapova, the Williams Sisters, Victoria Azarenka? It’s probably too late to call for law and vocal order. But why not? Did Steffi Graf or Martina Navratilova sound off as they played? Or Justine Henin?
Monica Seles was the mother of grunting in the 1990s, but she was pianissimo compared with the current crowd. But I’ve seen Serena and Venus play well without sound affects. Sharapova, too. But does screaming give them an edge?
I believe the WTA (Women’s Tennis Assn) should give serious consideration to applying the hindrance rule. Naturally it won’t happen, but maybe they could issue pacifiers to the shouters. And I hope the estimable Nick Bollettieri will give sportsmanship lessons to such of his charges as Larcher de Brito.
Screeching and boorishness detract from the occasion.
How do you feel, kind reader?