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WTA to phase out grunting … over the next 20 years

Chris Chase
Busted Racquet

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The WTA wants the headline to read "Tennis to get tough on grunting." It's actually doing nothing of the sort.

USA Today's Doug Robson wrote a fascinating piece on Monday detailing an umbrella plan to rid the sport of grunting. It was recently approved by representatives from the four majors, the International Tennis Federation and the WTA's player's council.

The plan would give umpires a "grunt-o-meter" to measure decibel levels of on-court shrieks. That, coupled with a rule that would set a specific level of excessive grunting and earlier education for players, is to help curb the shrieks that have been a part of the sport since the days of Monica Seles.

But there's a catch: The proposed changes won't apply to any current players. They would be grandfathered in because some experts say it'd be too hard for Victoria Azarenka to change her affected, distracting shrieking "ingrained motor skills and breathing techniques." Instead, this effort is meant to educate so tennis academies can't breed little Maria Sharapovas.

"What is clear from experts is that [banning grunting now] would have a clear, damaging effect on performance of the existing generation," WTA chairman Stacey Allaster told USA Today.

She said the gradual ending of grunting is preferable to enforcing the hindrance rule in tennis.

[Related: Wimbledon women's preview: Maria Sharapova has a fairly easy path to the final]

"What is too loud?" she asked. "What is too long? We need to give the official an objective measurement tool. Can you imagine on a critical point an umpire going, 'Oh, I thought you were too loud.' You have to take all of that out of the equation. It's not fair to athletes, the chair or the sport."

You'll notice one key subset not mentioned in Allaster's comments. What about the fans? When people complain about grunting, it's not because they're worried about its effect on a screamer's opponent or the sanctity of the sport. We don't like grunting because it's annoying at best and makes matches unwatchable at worst.

So do something about it instead of hiding behind a toothless plan. Why let the bad habits of a few ruin the sport for the masses? Other players have to adapt to playing grunters. Surely the screamers can adapt to not shouting during points. They don't do it during practice, so it can't be that hard.

If the NFL wants to change headhunting rules, it isn't concerned how James Harrison will have to change his "ingrained motor skills." Baseball didn't phase out amphetamines over 20 years; it banned them, ingrained habits be damned.

Allaster and the WTA are chickening out. It's like when NBC decided to give Conan O'Brien the "Tonight Show" job but after five more years of Jay Leno. They've made a decision that only served to delay making a real one. And by putting it off, they're more likely to screw it up when the time comes to act for real.

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