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Sharapova supports plan to muzzle grunting tennis players

TOKYO -- Plans to muzzle the ear-bashing grunters of women's tennis have found an unlikely ally in Maria Sharapova.

One of the worst offenders, Sharapova's screams have been measured at more than 101 decibels — comparable to a chain saw, a pneumatic drill or a speeding train.

The sport's governing body is to educate players to turn down the volume after pressure from fans, TV broadcasters and a handful of competitors fed up with the constant shrieking on court — and Sharapova thinks it is the right answer.

The WTA plans to muzzle the next generation with the aid of umpires armed with hand-held devices to measure noise levels on court. Education at major tennis academies and with juniors and players at lower-tier tournaments has already begun.

“Bottom line is the right answer has been taken by the tour,” Sharapova told Reuters, safe in the knowledge she will not be told to shush.

“I started grunting since whenever I can remember,” she added at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo. “I see videos of myself and I've grunted for that long. Nobody told me to do it in Russia or in Florida. It's just a natural habit.”

Deliberate Ploy

Grunting made headlines again this year after Belarusian Victoria Azarenka and Sharapova screeched their way to the first two grand slam titles of 2012.

“The information going towards coaches and academies that are developing talent from a young age is teaching them a certain breathing technique,” said Sharapova.

“Because when you start something from a young age and continue it, it's a habit — whether you do grunt or don't grunt.

“The WTA created a plan. That's the smart way to go about it, rather than like taking someone's forehand and grip in the middle of their career and telling them to change it.”

Nine-time Wimbledon singles champion Martina Navratilova, however, calls grunting “cheating, pure and simple” and wants rule changes sooner rather than later.

Tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, who has trained many of the game's super-grunters, including Sharapova, has been accused of teaching it as a ploy to distract opponents.

Monica Seles, Larcher de Brito, the Williams sisters and Andre Agassi have all passed through Bollettieri's academy in Florida.

Bollettieri denies the accusation but Caroline Wozniacki's complaints about grunting last year prompted the WTA to approach his academy to discuss ways of preventing the next generation from developing the habit.

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Maria Sharapova, of Russia, answers questions during a round-table interview at the Pan Pacific Open tennis tournament in Tokyo on Sept. 23. Plans to muzzle the ear-bashing grunters of women's tennis have found an unlikely ally in Maria Sharapova. (AFP)

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