When a professional tennis player whacks a ball with all of her considerable power, expelling a breath forcefully — and audibly — is perfectly natural.
On the other hand, some players on the WTA Tour sound like they are auditioning for a bad horror move when they shriek with every stroke.
Policing the fine line between grunt and distracting howl is difficult, but the WTA recently decided to do something about it. After a board meeting a couple of weeks ago in Key Biscayne, Fla., the WTA said it is developing a long-term plan to address the issue.
“I think it’s a really hard thing to police,” said fifth-ranked Samantha Stosur, the 2010 Family Circle Cup champion. “Unfortunately, I think it’s only an issue with a couple of players. But they are the ones who are on TV, the ones who everyone talks about and some of the best players in the world.”
Stosur was too polite to name any names, but Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, currently the top two players in the world, have been known to redline the decibel meter.
The WTA is reluctant to require current pros to change their habits, but hopes to encourage up-and-coming players to tone it down. Vera Zvonareva, 27 and ranked No. 9, said players her age were taught to grunt.
“It’s something you’ve been encouraged to do since you were young, and it’s tough to control now,” said the Russian star. “It’s like re-teaching yourself breathing when you run. It’s very difficult.
“The biggest concern is affecting players on the other side of the net. If the grunt is too long or loud, you cannot hear the contact point of the ball and it’s a little bit of an advantage. It can really get under your skin if it’s too much.”
After a reporter referred to her “great footwork” during her win over Elena Vesnina on Tuesday, Serena Williams went all modest with the media.
“When I think of footwork, I think of like (Rafael) Nadal,” she said. “I don’t really move my feet.”
Serena also lamented the banana pudding she ate before the match.
Shhh, don’t tell her about Page’s Okra Grill in Mount Pleasant. Or the banana pudding pop at Hubee D’s. Or …
As part of the 40th anniversary of the Family Circle Cup, the tournament will host the “Original Nine” of women’s professional tennis on Saturday night. Tennis legends Billie Jean King and Rosie Casals were two of the nine women who signed $1 contracts in 1970 to start the Virginia Slims pro circuit.
“These nine ladies took a stand and said, ‘We want equal pay,’” Serena Williams said. “And now look at us. I think we’re the premier sport for all females.
“So I’m really honored that they did that, and it opened so many doors for me and for every player that’s playing now.”
ESPN2 will televise this year’s action beginning today from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., with Friday’s quarterfinals coverage in the same time slot.
Saturday’s semifinal broadcast will run from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., with Sunday’s finals at the same time. Cliff Drysdale and Pam Shriver will provide commentary.
A total of 7,761 turned out for Wednesday’s day matches, with 6,908 on hand forthe night session featuring Venus Williams. That puts attendance at 44,433 thus far.