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Just weeks after winning the French Open in dominating fashion, Serena Williams’ fourth-round exit at Wimbledon came as quite a shock to the tennis world.  Williams’ 34-match win streak came to an end thanks to the strong play of 23-seed Sabine Lisicki from Germany, taking down Williams -a five-time Wimbledon champion- in three sets.  

This particular loss will not define Williams’ tournament or even prove to be the most memorable aspect of her time at Wimbledon, as her off-court controversy dominated the headlines.

Comments attributed to Williams in a Rolling Stone Magazine article caused an uproar in the week leading up to Wimbledon.  First, excerpts from the article emerged quoting Williams criticizing a teenage rape victim from Steubenville, OH. 

The writer also asserted that “mean girl” comments made by Williams in a phone conversation he overheard were about fellow tennis star Maria Sharapova, to which the world No. 3 responded with a low blow of her own during a Wimbledon press conference.

The public fallout from her comments in print put Williams on the defensive, prompting a series of half-apologies, followed - days later - by words of seemingly sincere remorse. 

Serena’s faux pas reinforced the delicacy of the balancing act performed by public figures.    

Williams’ attempt at openness (in letting a writer into her home for the Rolling Stone article) proves just how important managers, handlers and PR professionals are to maintaining the success and longevity of their clients’ brands.  

Much to reporters’ chagrin, some athletes know better.  They refrain from using twitter.  They don’t say much during press conferences or locker room interviews.  They don’t want to bother trying to censor themselves to appease everybody (an impossible feat) or they know their limitations, acknowledging that public speaking won’t put them in a position to succeed.  

Had Williams made such controversial statements as a younger champion not yet possessing a Hall of Fame resume, it might not have hurt her career on the court, but the hoopla could have impacted endorsement deals and other areas of her professional life.  

Whether she likes it or not, Williams is a role model to many, not just children.  As a young girl home schooled and raised in Compton, she is a wonderful example of where work ethic and dedication can take a person.    As someone who oozes both feminism and power, it’s interesting and disheartening that each instance of Williams’ recent negativity was aimed at other women.  

Williams is entitled to her opinion but perhaps these last few weeks in London have served as a reminder that her actions are bigger than herself and more important than winning or losing.  


During last year’s Wimbledon tournament, I wrote an article about the heinous grunting in tennis after Caroline Wozniaki, one of the top women on tour, criticized a fellow player’s incessant noise making.

"I think there are some players who do it on purpose," Wozniaki told The Guardian during Wimbledon in 2011.  "They don’t do it in practice and then they come into the match and they grunt. I think they [officials] could definitely cut it.

"If you grunt really loudly your opponent cannot hear how you hit the ball.  Because the grunt is so loud, you think the ball is coming fast and suddenly the ball just goes slowly. In tight moments, maybe the grunt helps them with getting less nervous.”

The Women’s Tennis Association heard the complaints of Wozniaki and the fans loud and clear, as a new plan to curb excessive grunting and shrieking is now in the works.   WTA chairman and CEO Stacey Allaster addressed the situation at Wimbledon last year saying the matter deserved attention and she followed through big time, unveiling a few measures to be taken in the future. 

According to USA Today:

The umbrella scenario, unanimously green-lighted this month at Roland Garros in Paris by representatives of the four majors, the International Tennis Federation and the WTA players’ council, would include:
• The development of a handheld device — a kind of Hawk-Eye for noise — for umpires to objectively measure on-court grunting levels.
• A new rule setting acceptable and non-acceptable noise levels based on acoustical data gathering and analysis.
• Education at large tennis academies, national development programs and at all levels of junior and lower-tier professional events.
The new measures are designed not to punish or affect current players, instead aiming to start at the youth level in hopes of curbing unnecessary noise before it ever becomes a habit.

If you’ve never noticed just how nasty the vocal emissions can get on a tennis court, well, you’ve probably never watched a match and therefor likely wouldn’t be reading this blog post.  But just in case, here’s a reminder, care of last year’s The Guardian article:

“The shrieks of the 2004 Wimbledon champion [Maria Sharapova] have been compared to a pneumatic drill and have been measured at more than 100 decibels. [Victoria] Azarenka’s grunts are longer and higher-pitched, and were described by one Wimbledon watcher this year as “like Mickey Mouse in distress.”

Umm, I’d say that’s a fair assessment.  I’ve watched many a match on mute because the grunting drives me nuts.   I’m all for the this new, seemingly diplomatic larynx legislation, especially considering the WTA consulted current and former players, as well as sports science and psychology experts. 

But what about the guys?  According to the USA Today article, ATP spokesperson Kate Gordon expressed that “the issue is not perceived to be a problem on the ATP World Tour and has not been raised.” 

Hey ATP, I just watched the men’s doubles final at Wimbledon, complete with a +3 hour-long soundtrack of low groans and grunts.  Sure, the boys aren’t typically murdering our ears with high-pitch squeals made famously annoying by the girls, but their sounds are bothersome all the same. 
 
The ladies are often guilty of disturbing the peace, but so are the gentleman.  The same rules should apply to both tours.  The WTA does not yet have an implementation schedule for this new plan, but I’m looking forward to the day when I won’t have to even think about muting my TV during a match. 

What does a guy have to do to get top billing?  Rory McIlroy just won more than $1 million with a victory at the Honda Classic which catapulted him to the top of the standings where at 22 years old, he is now the No. 1 golfer in the world.  McIlroy has three PGA Tour wins - including the 2011 U.S. Open - on his resume, and he’s dating the world’s 4th-ranked tennis player, Caroline Wozniacki.  Despite living a fairytale-like life at the moment, the young man from Northern Ireland is being overshadowed by another golfer. 

Although McIlroy is No. 1, “Tiger” is on the tip of everyone’s tongue after Woods’ shot a spectacular 62 in the final round of the Honda Classic, leaving him two shots behind McIlroy for a second place finish (Tom Gillis tied Woods as the runner up).  Starting the day nine shots behind McIlroy, Woods dazzled his way up the leader board, at one point trailing McIlroy by only one stroke.  62 is Wood’s best-ever final round score in a PGA Tour event.

Not too shabby. 

Nearly everything went well for Woods who logged two eagles and three birdies in Sunday’s final round while McIlroy struggled mightily at times, looking like he might not earn a first place finish.  Instead of letting the game get away from him, McIlroy made the best of potentially nasty situations on the 15th and 17th with two impressive up-and-downs out of bunkers good for par on both holes. 

Perhaps the biggest “goosebump” moment for McIlroy came on the 13th hole where he was preparing to putt an 8-footer for birdie when he heard the crowd going nuts from the 18th.  Woods had just eagled the hole, putting him within one measly shot of the Irishman.  McIlroy made his birdie putt, reclaiming a two-stroke lead. 

But don’t think he wasn’t shaking in his boots a bit.  After the tournament, McIlroy told reporters, “It was tough today, especially when Tiger made a charge and posted 10 under.”

Ya, no kidding!  That comment is a far cry from those he made during the Honda Classic last year when the young, then up-and-coming McIlroy had this to say about a down and out Woods:

"When Tiger had that aura, I wasn’t playing against him - I was watching on TV.

"I remember getting nervous when I first met him.  I was 15.  There was a presence about him.  There still is to some extent but when you’re on the course you simply block it out.

"But Tiger is not playing as well as he was even a couple of years ago, never mind going back to the late 1990s and early 2000s, when he was at his best.

"I’m not sure we are going to see him dominate again the way he did.

"It’s not that he’s playing badly.  He’s simply playing badly by Tiger’s standards.  He’s playing like an ordinary golfer."

Wowzah!

Listen, young Rory was right, but saying this stuff on the record, as a 21-year-old scrub taking the tour by storm, probably wasn’t such a bright idea.

Either way, Woods managed to set McIlroy straight with his play today, despite losing the tournament.  While a competitor such as Woods is never satisfied with a moral victory like this one, his fantastic final round surely gave   the man who once held the world’s No. 1 ranking for a record 623 weeks that much more confidence, which will eventually propel him to his first PGA Tour win since 2009. 

After the tournament, Tiger tweeted the following:

@TigerWoods:  Congrats to @mcilroyrory on getting to No. 1.  Thanks to PB fans for all the love this week.

At 21 years and 10 months old, McIlroy became the second-youngest player in golf history to be ranked No. 1, right behind you-know-who.  15 years ago, Woods was 21 years and 6 months old when he shot to the top of the rankings in 1997. 

Apparently, love was in the air in Palm Beach Gardens Sunday as McIlroy dished out plenty of compliments to Woods as well.  “I always had putts on the putting green when I was 10 to beat Tiger Woods or to beat Phil Mickelson. But hopefully it would be great to turn that into reality at some point,” McIlroy told reporters. “They are the best two golfers of this generation, and obviously Tiger’s the best by a long way. It’s quite an honor just to be mentioned in the same sentence as those two guys.”

That’s right son.  Respect your elders. 

After details of Woods’ personal life unfolded publicly, I was pretty disgusted and thought I could never root for him again, but as we’ve seen over and over again in this country, time and winning heals most wounds.  Woods has become the unlikeliest of underdogs and I, along with most in the sport of golf, am praying that he will soon provide us with the drama, skill and splendor that was once routine with nearly ever tournament in which he played. 

What could be better for golf than a Woods/McIlroy pairing on a Sunday? 

Okay, maybe Woods/Mickelson.  But you get the point. 

(Photo: Woods and McIlroy during a practice round for the Abu Dhabi Championship in January, 2012. Photograph: Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

                

Ever find yourself watching a major tennis tournament on mute because you can no longer handle the obnoxious, over-the-top and sometimes inappropriate noises being purged from the players’ mouths?

The top dog in women’s tennis, world No.1 Caroline Wozniacki is speaking out about the grunting she wishes her competitors would hold in. 

Before being bounced from the WTA Championships in Turkey by Petra Kvitova on Thursday, Wozniacki bemoaned the moaning that she says opponents use strategically to gain an edge in competition. 

21-year-old Wozniacki told Simon Chambers of The Guardian, “I think there are some players who do it on purpose.  They don’t do it in practice and then they come into the match and they grunt. I think they [officials] could definitely cut it.”

What advantage can shrieking like a wild animal in heat possibly provide, aside from annoying your opponent (and everyone else within earshot)?

According to Wozniacki, “if you grunt really loudly your opponent cannot hear how you hit the ball.  Because the grunt is so loud, you think the ball is coming fast and suddenly the ball just goes slowly. In tight moments, maybe the grunt helps them with getting less nervous.”

Who knew?  The article also quotes WTA Chairman & CEO Stacey Allaster admitting to the annoyance of the tour’s lady grunters, even saying there has been an increase in fan complaints as of late.  Allaster said the matter deserves a look and that changes could come at the junior level. 

My Dad always yells at the TV when the female players grunt and shriek, often imitating them in the process which is, um, uncomfortable.  As the young feminist that I am, I always rebut with the fact that, “Dad, the guys do it too.  It’s not just the women.”  It’s beyond annoying regardless of gender, but the ladies do seem to pack an extra punch.

 

According to The Guardian, “the shrieks of the 2004 Wimbledon champion [Maria Sharapova] have been compared to a pneumatic drill and have been measured at more than 100 decibels. [Victoria] Azarenka’s grunts are longer and higher-pitched, and were described by one Wimbledon watcher this year as “like Mickey Mouse in distress.”

I’m all for Wozniacki sounding off on the subject.  I like how she criticized the action, which is really just subtly (or not) taking shots at some of the sport’s most popular women.  Finishing a second consecutive season ranked No.1, Wozniacki has recently opened up and shown a lot more personality. 

Back in January, she pranked the Australian Open press after media reports called her “boring.”  In September, Wozniacki imitated Rafael Nadal’s awkward press conference (where he moaned and fidgeted while suffering cramps) at her own post-match media session at the U.S. Open. 

It’s interesting that the world’s top women’s player two years running has yet to win a Grand Slam title, but I think Wozniacki will change that next season.   I like her because you never know what she’ll do next.   With the aging Williams sisters likely looking at their best days in the rear view mirror, women’s tennis needs the play and personality of Caroline Wozniacki. 


Watch Caroline prank the media here:  http://www.casttv.com/video/5fb15jq/caroline-wozniacki-funny-press-conference-video

Watch Caroline do her best “Cramping Nadal” impression here:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/06/caroline-wozniacki-nadal-cramps-press-conference_n_950490.html