Saturday, May 30, 2009

Grunting returns to French Open

2009 French Open - Day Six

16-year-old Michelle Larcher De Brito grunted her way into the limelight on a day Venus Williams made her now customary early exit.

While Williams, the third seed, was slipping to a fourth third-round defeat in five years, Portuguese Larcher De Brito was in front of the press defending the shrieks and squeals that made her public enemy number one during her defeat to France's Aravane Rezai.

Rezai, who won 7-6 (7/3) 6-2 on Philippe Chatrier court, complained several times to the umpire about the often inappropriate noises coming from the other side of the net, which came not just as she struck the ball but also when her opponent made a mistake.

At 4-3 in the first set, the umpire summoned the grand-slam supervisor, who suggested he have a word with Larcher De Brito at the next changeover.

The highly-rated teenager, who attended the famous Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida from the age of nine, clearly has a great future ahead of her but she is in danger of becoming known more for her grunts than her groundstrokes.

She was bombarded with questions after the match about her groans, but she maintained it was simply part of her game.

"It's something natural," said Larcher De Brito, who was jeered off the court after offering the weakest of congratulatory handshakes to Rezai.

"I've been doing it ever since I started playing tennis. I'm not trying to copy anybody.

"I can't all of a sudden stop grunting. It feels like something's missing in my game if I stop."

With Bollettieri having also coached Monica Seles and Maria Sharapova, two other grunters of the women's game down the years, a pattern seems to be emerging.

But Larcher De Brito insisted: "It's really myself out there - it's got nothing to do with Bollettieri."

When Larcher De Brito met Rezai in qualifying in a tournament in Miami this year, the Frenchwoman also complained about the teenager's grunting.

Larcher De Brito claimed no other opponent had done so before or since.

"She's actually the first one - I guess that was a bit of a tactic to throw me off a little bit," she said.

"The crowd was against me. I guess she has to find a way to win. It got a little bit under my skin. It shouldn't have, but I'm young and I'm still learning."

Rezai, who makes the fourth round here for the first time, said: "It really did upset me because it was really unpleasant. There's a limit, you can't really shout that way."

The incident rather overshadowed the early exit of the elder Williams, who became the highest-ranked casualty of the tournament.

The American, who has never won the title at Roland Garros, was beaten 6-0 6-4 by 29th seed Agnes Szavay, of Hungary.

"I had a tough day. I didn't get the ball in court so that didn't help," said Williams, the 2002 runner-up here.

"I'm used to beating people 6-0. I'm not used to my shot not going in and losing a set 6-0. It just didn't come together for me."

Szavay next plays Dominika Cibulkova, the 20th seed.

Elsewhere, reigning champion Ana Ivanovic and title favourite Dinara Safina continued their ruthless streaks at Roland Garros, both winning their third-round matches in little over an hour.

Eighth seed Ivanovic thrashed Iveta Benesova, ranked 35th in the world, 6-0 6-2.

"The score doesn't indicate how hard I had to work for some points," said Ivanovic.

Top seed Safina raced to a 6-2 6-0 victory over fellow Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Court One to set up a meeting with Rezai.

Neither Ivanovic nor Safina, who lost just three points in the opening five games of the second set, have dropped a set this week. They should meet in the quarter-finals.

Former world number one Maria Sharapova recovered from a dreadful start to advance into round four.

The Russian, who is ranked 102 in the world after having shoulder problems for the past year, beat Kazakhstan's Yaroslava Shvedova 1-6 6-3 6-4.

Sharapova will next play 25th seed Na Li, who defeated Olga Govortsova 7-5 6-1.

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