Scott: WTA can't ignore grunting
LONDON -- After a week of shrieks, wails and squeals dominating the headlines at Wimbledon, outgoing WTA chief Larry Scott said the tour could no longer turn a deaf ear to the grunting phenomenon that has swept women's tennis.
Instead of marveling at the quality of the forehands and backhands, shriek-hunters have crammed courts to monitor the ear-splitting sounds from the likes of Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka or new kid on the block Michelle Larcher De Brito.
"I've been used to hearing that controversy this fortnight over 20 years. The other 50 weeks of the year I would not say it has been a significant issue," said Scott, who leaves his post at the end of this month after six years at the helm.
"[But] this year it has expanded beyond that. At Roland Garros, I agree, we started hearing about this and reading about it in a way we hadn't before outside Wimbledon. Based on that we have started a process of looking at it more carefully," he said.
Larcher De Brito, a 16-year-old Portuguese, created a commotion at Roland Garros with her howls.
It provided the perfect opportunity for British tabloid newspapers to think up noise metaphors about police sirens, aircraft taking off and bull elephants bellowing.
Scott said the tour wanted the focus to return to tennis so officials will be keeping a close eye on noise levels.
"There are rules in place," he said. "There are hindrance rules. Chair umpires are empowered to issue warnings, point penalties if there is a feeling that it's gamesmanship affecting play.
"But I don't think we're at that point of sort of changing the instructions to the chair umpires. It's just being monitored a little bit more closely right now. I haven't had players come to me in my six years as head of the WTA to say this is a competition issue. At least up 'til now, it has been more of an issue about the presentation of the sport, and it hasn't really been a competition issue," he said.
Another thing that has caused confusion among fans is the ranking system. Since Belgian Justine Henin retired in May 2008, the top ranking has been occupied by five different players.
They are based on number of matches won and therefore reward players who have been successful throughout the year rather than just those who have won the big tournaments like Grand Slams.
When U.S. and Australian Open champion Serena Williams was usurped by Safina this year, the American claimed she was still the "real No. 1" no matter what the rankings said.
Although Williams has since backtracked somewhat, Safina has often had to defend her status.
"There have been several occasions where the sport has had No. 1s that hadn't won a Grand Slam at any time," said Scott. "I know that does stir a debate amongst fans because the world's focus is greatest around the Grand Slams. But the ranking system really is designed sort of around king or queen of the hill -- who is the strongest, most consistent performer over the years. There are a lot of factors that go into the ranking system.
"While I know it does stir debate, the one place it doesn't stir a debate is in the locker room," he said. "The players believe in that ranking system. They believe the ranking is right. I have not had one player come up to me and say 'How can Dinara Safina be No. 1 in the world?' They believe in it. That's the ultimate test."
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