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Dave Sammel on gamesmanship


Originally published on: 26/02/10 16:32

Michelle Larcher De Brito’s journey to the third round of the French Open last week caused a bit of a stir among fans and the media with the noise the 16-year-old Portuguese was producing when she hit the ball.

Were the world No.132s antics gamesmanship and, if they were, then what other dubious on-court tactics need to be controlled? The tennishead coaching editor and MCTA Managing Director Dave Sammel tells it like it is

1. Grunting: Do you think players ever use grunting to put off their opponents? Should umpires be more authoritative when its sometimes bordering on the ridiculous?
Dave Sammel: This is a tough subject and started nearly 20 years ago with Monica Seles. Grunting is a natural occurrence when hitting with pace, but there is no doubt that some players use it to show their aggression. Personally I think with Michelle Larcher De Brito and Maria Sharapova it is about them finding aggression to overcome their own nerves, but they are also well aware that the intent behind the noise is a message to opponents and it does affect certain players when they are also tight. The issue is how loud is too loud?

Grunting cannot be banned as it occurs naturally, so perhaps umpires can be given the power to issue yellow cards (warnings) then penalty points if they deem it to be over the top. Is it sensible to give this extra subjective power to umpires? Should they have to consult with the referee before issuing a warning, which will make each tournament consistent?

At present my feeling is to let the locker room sort it out as unless the top players take it on why should the authorities because tough competitors will either tackle it or not bother, as it has no effect on them.

2. Time penalty: The rules state that you can only take 20 seconds between points, but on numerous occasions it has been highlighted that players take longer than this. Should chair umpires intervene more when this is the case or do you think it is not really an issue?
DS: Matches have a rhythm and generally the time between points is part of this, with a good understanding between players of what is normal recovery. When a player deliberately breaks this code and is using it as a psychological weapon or to recover because they are struggling with fitness then its up to the umpire to begin enforcing the rule. Personally, I think from the moment a point ends to the second the next point starts, 30 seconds is reasonable, I believe this because players need around 20 seconds to recover from the last point and 10 seconds to get ready for the next. I think 30 seconds in total ought to be enforced strictly when longer clearly disturbs the flow of a match.

3. On-court coaching: Do you think on-court coaching should be allowed at all events? Is there any unfairness involved? Does it take away the individual aspect of the sport?
DS: Coaching goes on all the time and cannot be stopped as different signals and ways of delivering messages will always get around any rules. More on court coaching tournaments such as the TenniscoachUK


Tim Farthing, Tennishead Editorial Director & Owner, has been a huge tennis fan his whole life. He's a tennis journalist and entrepreneur as well as playing tennis to a national standard. He also helps manage his local club and volunteers for his local tennis organisation. He's a specialist in content about the administration of professional tennis and tennis coaching for all levels.