When Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka stood on the court after the Istanbul final, I didn't think it was a coincidence that Stacey Allaster didn't look them in the eye. One "barks," the other screams, and there they were--the winner and finalist of the WTA Championships. Allaster has waffled more than a political candidate about the issue of noise-making by the players. She defended them, then she decided to have "gruntometers" designed and installed, then she defended (shortly after the Istanbul final) her players again.
Now, the two biggest noise-makers on the tour--Maria Sharapova and VIctoria Azarenka--have reached the Australian Open final. One of them is going to be the champion, and the other one isn't going to look too shabby. What, you may wonder, is Stacey Allaster to do?
Her dreams of technology may have failed, but recent events indicate that subterfuge is perhaps a better weapon. Though in the past, they said either nothing, or that grunting/screaming didn't bother them at all, Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic and Agnieszka Radwanska have all recently called for action to be taken against the noise-makers. ESPN has devoted as much attention to the subject as it has to actual match-calling. There is, it would seem, a campaign to get the job done by using the players and the media to support what is said to be public disapproval of some players.
The other night, Martina Navritalova stated bluntly that if it were really a "P.R. problem," it would have already been solved.
So have some players been troubled by the noise but, for years, lacked the guts to come forward and say so? Or do players who aren't especially bothered by the sounds just not have the guts to say "no" to Allaster or whoever represents her in this issue? Either way, it doesn't look good, spine-wise.
I've stood really close to both Sharapova and Azarenka (and Venus Williams, for that matter) while they were playing, and I wasn't bothered at all by the noise. I understand that some spectators are bothered (many for sexist reasons, some because they just want players to be quiet), and that brings us back to the question of: Who decides what noises are prohibited? I haven't heard anyone complaining about Rafael Nadal or David Ferrer. I haven't heard anyone complaining about Caroline Wozniacki or Svetlana Kuznetsova. All of those players grunt. And while it's true that ATP players don't scream, it's worth noting that--as a rule--men don't scream.
The screaming and yelling seem to be part of a new culture of "power" tennis. I can tolerate the noise more than the playing style; I still want the players to use wooden racquets. But times have changed. Players cannot be stopped from grunting (and why would you want to stop them?), so it seems odd to try to stop them from screaming.
The worst part of all this is that the WTA gets way more public attention because a few players scream than it does for the daily grind and occasional wonder of its athletes who--by fate of birth--don't happen to be men. A "screamer" is going to win the Australian Open, and the WTA will airbrush her and promote her and tell the world what a great champion she is. All that will be done publicly, but who knows what's next in the more private campaign to get her and the runner-up to be quiet?