Friday, May 29, 2009

"Shrieking" teen actually 16-year-old tennis player at French Open

The Shrieks of a Teen Are All the Rage at the Open.

It was definitely the title of this New York Times article that caught my attention at first. Sixteen-year-old Portuguese qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito recently lost a third-round match against Aravane Rezai in the French Open.

Two hours later, tennis’s latest precocious teen walked off the Philippe Chatrier court a loser amid a disapproving chorus of boos and whistles. She was soon in tears in the players lounge.

It was a poignant, unsettling and thoroughly predictable finish to a French Open match in which Larcher de Brito’s competitive fire, scrappy defense and remarkable ball-striking were overshadowed by her shrieks and bellicose body language.

Emphasis mine.

After reading that, I was expecting her hear of some very poor sportsmanship on the part of Larcher de Brito. All that the article mentioned was a "cursory handshake afterward in which De Brito tapped Rezai’s extended palm rather than shake it," which, granted, is poor sportsmanship, but not what I was expecting to "overshadow" her skills for an athlete of her age. I thought the description was unfair, especially after reading the entire article.

The piece then goes into Rezai complaining to the chair umpire at the match about the noise that Larcher de Brito was making. The article goes on to describe Larcher de Brito's noise:

Grunting is an inadequate term to describe the extended, high-pitched wails that the Portuguese teen produces during and after most strokes. But they have been a feature of her game since she was a junior and a frequent talking point among players and spectators who have crossed De Brito’s career path.

About Rezai's complaints about the noise:

“I guess that was a bit of her tactic to throw me off a little bit,” Larcher de Brito said of Rezai.

But Rezai said that other players had expressed their support for her taking a stand after Friday’s match. “I reacted the way I did, because I felt it was bothering me,” Rezai said. “Perhaps in the next matches she’ll play, other players will do the same. I perhaps started something.”

I learned that in tennis there is the "hindrance rule", which allows the chair umpire to give a point to a player if they are "hindered in playing the point by a deliberate act of the opponent". Apparently grunting while striking the ball is considered a deliberate act. In Larcher de Brito’s case, was not the volume of the noise but the length that posed the problem.

The rule, to me, sounds like something that would be difficult (in some cases) for both umpires and players to make sense of. Maybe Larcher de Brito needs to work on this aspect of her game, but is that really something to base an entire article on?

Oh wait, apparently it is.

Any tennis players or tennis fans out there? What do you think?


Justina said...

Well, grunting (or shrieking or whatever) when hitting the ball is common, especially with people hitting as hard as professionals do, but I think it's often exaggerated to try to intimidate the opponent. The Williams sisters are famous for this, and Sharapova shrieks while playing a lot too. Personally, I find it to be a bit of a cheap gimmick. I'd rather people win because they're good at playing tennis, not because they're good at being noisy and distracting. Roger Federer, one of the best and most respected players in the world right now, is pretty much silent when he plays (and he hits the ball extremely hard), and I think it's a sign of his incredible sportsmanship. That isn't to say I mind when people make a bit of noise, but when it's obviously not involuntary (as is the case with this girl) I think it's understandable that people disapprove. The psychological aspect is incredibly important in sports like tennis, where you don't have any team members to support you.

Amelia said...

Thanks for the insight, Justina. Like I admitted, I know little about tennis. I also think that it's understandable that people disapprove, but I guess (perhaps due to my lack of knowledge about the sport) that I found it strange that the sound was what was focused so heavily on in the article when there were possibly other interesting things to cover (such as the fact that she is only 16, or the other matches that had been played that only received minimal attention IMO).