Saturday, September 26, 2009

More on US Squash ...

A lot more!

I received two interesting comments from my most recent blog bemoaning the fact that more enthusiastic squash players don't join the national squash association. (If you are reading this from outside the US, I'd be interested to know if similar problems, or attitudes, exist elsewhere. One reader, from Canada, listed with apparent satisfaction the benefits he or she receives from his or her regional squash association, all for $35 in Canadian bills, which last time I looked was worth more than the anemic US dollar...)

Another reader raised an interesting point, saying that not being on the East coast meant that he or she just didn't get enough value for his membership. It's definitely true that historically the East coast, from where I write, has been more involved with the game, so I wondered whether perhaps there is an ingrained regional specificity that has biased the national organization and its dispensation of energy and funds.

What exactly does the USS organization do, anyway? I decided to call and ask Kevin Klipstein, the capo di tutti capo of the organization itself, and ask. He told me that the list was long, and that USS did indeed provide abundant value for those outside of the East coast, but that this was a lingering perception. I asked for some facts, which he supplied later that day in an emailed list, as below. I pass it on, while reminding everyone that I am not a paid writer for USS and believe I am an unbiased observer of the game and its politics. However, I reiterate as strongly as I can that I believe supporting your national organization is a must for all lovers of the game, including those in Canada, Sweden, Egypt, England, etc.... Below, Klipstein's list:

What Does U.S. SQUASH Do for Me? Well, That Depends, Who Are You?

Squash Player/Fan/Enthusiast
Host website with information on every aspect of squash in the US
Provide online listing of tournaments and leagues run in the US
Provide comprehensive list of clubs in the US
Provide technology infrastructure which allows players to enter scores from everything from a challenge ladder match, box league, team league or tournament which count towards ratings calculations
Provide the online tools to teaching pros, coaches, tournament directors and districts to manage every type of competition with results counting towards players’ rankings
Generate regularly updated rankings at the club, district and national level
Annually offer tens of thousands of dollars in seed money for new middle, high school and college programs nationally
Provide all administrative support and technology infrastructure to schedule, report results and generate ratings and rankings for College Squash
Provide all administrative support and technology infrastructure to schedule, report results and generate ratings and rankings for Middle and High School Squash nationally
Field our National Teams: Junior Women, Junior Men, Women’s Men’s Teams across a host of competitions including the World Championships, Pan American Federation Cup, Pan American Games and the World University Games
Run the U.S. Open Squash Championships
Host over 20 National Championships across juniors, adults, singles and doubles
Host 8 Regional Championships and 5 Junior Championship Tour events
License, host, co-host or facilitate financially
  • 2 men’s professional tournaments (NAO, US Open)
  • 3 women’s professional tournaments (Texas Open, Weymuller, Greenwich)
  • 3 doubles professional tournaments (Johnson, Kellner, NAO Doubles)
  • Two annual international competitions (Lapham-Grant, Copa Wadsworth)

U.S. SQUASH Member
Provide regularly updated national, district and club-level ratings and rankings
Offer a full-year subscription to Squash Magazine
Send monthly e-newsletter with national squash updates and links
Offer discounted fees for participation in U.S. SQUASH sanctioned leagues and ladders
Provide 35% discount for U.S. Open and other event tickets
Facilitate discounts at Hilton Hotels
Enable the Life Time Fitness “Be Our Guest” program which allows current U.S. SQUASH members a free “guest pass” to Life Time Fitness Clubs when traveling outside of their home region. Other clubs are being added to this network.
Provide ability to email other members of the Association via online system, and ability to “Find a Match” using online system, screening by location, skill level and availability
Host U.S. Championships for qualified junior, adult skill, adult age, and doubles players
Allow access to official U.S. SQUASH Coaching and Referee Certification programs
Offer Scholar-Athlete Program which recognizes junior squash players with a 3.5 GPA (or higher) and a Final Season Ranking
Offer Coaching Certification Courses to improve the skills of the teaching pros and coaches in the US
Offer Referee Certification Courses to improve the skills of officials in the US and encourage fair play nationally
Send a personalized membership card and other mailed updates throughout the year

Squash Clubs
Provide insurance coverage for sanctioned tournaments
Offer membership retention tools such as use of online software for hosting tournaments, leagues and ladders
Provide access to database of players to be used for communicating with club membership about club activities
Offer club rankings for players of every level
List clubs on website and promotion of all tournaments, leagues and ladders to help support membership retention
Support teaching professionals via Squash Professionals Affiliate (SPA) program (see Club Pros)
Offer a full-year subscription to Squash Magazine

Club Pros
Offer Coaching Certification Courses to improve skills as coach
Allow use of online software for hosting tournaments, leagues and ladders, also used for communicating with club membership about club activities
Access and support via the Squash Professionals Affiliate program which offers….
  • Personal liability insurance coverage for coaching
  • Access to a pre-screened, preferred network of health insurance providers
  • Eligibility for U.S. SQUASH Membership Incentives
  • Discounts on tournament sanctioning fees throughout the season (up to 20%)
  • Waived sanctioning fees for annual Club Championship
  • Waived sanctioning fees for use of U.S. SQUASH Leagues & Ladders
  • Free admission to the U.S. SQUASH Professional Development Conference
  • On-court performance apparel from U.S. SQUASH
  • A Squash Professionals Affiliate recognition certificate
  • Discounts up to 50% on Coach Certification Courses offered by U.S. SQUASH
  • Free entry into the SPA Championships
  • Eligibility for U.S. SQUASH Lifetime Achievement Award, Rookie of the Year and Most Respected Professional Awards

Provide all administrative support and technology infrastructure to schedule, report results and generate ratings and rankings for College Squash
Provide all administrative support and technology infrastructure to schedule, report results and generate ratings and rankings for Middle and High School Squash nationally
Access and support via the Squash Professionals Affiliate (SPA) program (see Club Pros)

Playing Pros
Run the U.S. Open Squash Championships
Financially responsible for prize purses for approximately
  • 30% of men’s professional tournaments in the US
  • 50% of women’s professional tournaments in the US
  • 20% of professional doubles tournaments in the US
Provide direct support to the US’s top six players through program called TOPS which includes
  • Direct financial support over $10K annually total
  • Mechanism for athletes to raise funding support on tax deductible basis
  • Athlete health insurance
  • Performance bonuses from the USOC
  • Reimbursement for PSA/WISPA dues
  • Waived entry fees at U.S. Squash Championships

Urban Squash
Offer discounted membership with full benefits
Provide 2 for 1 entry into Regional and National Championships
Waive junior charges and event sanctioning fees
Annually offer more than $30K in funding grants to National Urban Squash and Education Association and new and emerging urban programs

Provide liability insurance for sanctioned play reducing costs
Supply a centralized membership database with membership fee collection service and robust reporting tools at no cost
Offer tournament, team and box league management software at no cost
Provide regularly updated District ratings and rankings

Other things U.S. SQUASH Does
Represents squash as a Member of the United States Olympic
Represents United States as a Member of the World Squash Federation
Maintains the Rules of the Games for Squash in the United States

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cheap, Stupid or Uninformed?

There are many regular, enthusiastic squash players out there that, for one reason or another, are not members of US Squash. Now I concede that the occasional squash player, who plays a few times a month, may not have the well-being of the sport’s national organization uppermost in mind. But regular players, even thoroughly addicted ones who can be found beating the living hell out of a black squash ball 4 and 5 times a week -- why aren’t they members?

Players fitting that description, and there are a lot of them, may conjure up all kinds of excuses. One may be that they are cheap and don’t see the value in joining. There is no denying that we are living in tough financial times, so there will indeed be players out there who feel they simply can’t afford to pony up $55 for an annual membership -- which reduces to $50 when you automatically renew. (There is an additional but considerably smaller fee for membership into the local squash association, some of whom – I’m thinking of the MSRA in the New York area -- do an excellent job and run some great programs.)

So to those people, I say, fine, keep playing and join when you can. Those people are not cheap, they just can’t afford it; that’s different. But there are also a lot of cheap-o players who can afford membership 50 times over, and yet still don’t join, and these people may even while away some of their free time with bellicose complaints about various pro-squash things that “for some inexplicable reason, the morons who run US Squash haven’t done!”

Another possible explanation for not joining US Squash is that you are stupid. But that cannot be the case, because there are no stupid squash players. (They play racquetball! Oooops, sorry…)

A much more likely explanation for not joining is that you are uninformed. US Squash has a lot of programs, some of which are explained on their site, but they are many and varied enough that you may not know about them. Programs like their regularly updated rankings, discounted tickets available for sanctioned tournaments, the informative e-blast that goes out each month, coaching and refereeing support, discounts at Hilton Hotels, and even a credit card.

Plus, US Squash gives vital funding in support of Squash Magazine, the journal of record for our great game. Would the magazine like more funding? I bet they would, but the organization would need more members in order to fund more support. And I also bet that the ad director of Squash Magazine would like to be able to tell potential advertisers that the magazine goes out to a greater percentage of US squash players.

Recently US Squash announced a deal with the Life Time Fitness chain, in which US Squash members can get a free guest pass to play squash on any of the chain’s 122 courts. And finally, US Squash just unveiled their ‘Play Squash’ program, which provides software that club pros can use to set up ladders, box leagues, and intra- and interclub competitions. And there is more, go check it out.

All great stuff, and much of it done with sweat equity till late at night for nothing, because the funds to back our sport are underperforming the level of enthusiasm that supports it, indeed is allowing it to thrive. Ask your playing partners if they are members, and make it an issue if they are not. Bug them, cajole them, because it is time to step up.

I know the folks down at US Squash would dearly love to get their hands on more revenue from membership fees, because all those pro-squash things that the cheap-o’s are angry they haven’t done yet are on their list of things to do when they have the funds to do them.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Journalistic Myopia

How can one explain the squash myopia that rules triumphantly over the sports editors at The New York Times? As we all know, the NYT, together with The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, represents the journalistic sine qua non of the nation’s information-seeking masses. The NYT has a justified reputation for being a fine organization, is often fearless, and is packed with some of the best journalists in the game.

Which is why I remain baffled by some of the choices it makes in its sports coverage. There seems to be a pervasive ophthalmologic disorder that has run amok at the NYT’s sports desk in which no one over at the ‘Gray Lady’ sees the game of squash for what it is, an important minority sport whose players are particularly suited to NYT’s demographic: educated, professional, urban readers of news. It’s been very frustrating in years past when the Tournament of Champions has come to their own hometown and the NYT hasn’t given it a single line of copy. (A search of the NYT website comes up with two squash articles this year, far better than year’s past: one on Trinity’s astonishing success in college squash and another on StreetSquash.)

During the run-up to the recent distressing Olympics decision, the NYT mentioned squash only parenthetically (while claiming that it was probably not international enough!), and afterwards ran a post-decision article that opined about how the decision was a terrible blow to softball fans the world over but failed to even mention squash and its response.

And it’s not like the NYT has a policy of only doing articles on major sports. They have run articles on polo and breathless updates on skeleton, and just last Friday ran a long article on the new sport of ‘beach tennis,’ in which the sport’s founders discuss their hopes for Olympic inclusion! Please god don’t let it be so. That article is here:
The New York Times

The journalistic blinders are still on over at the NYT!

These bad choices may partly explain why people in search of sports coverage in the New York City area greatly prefer The Daily News or The New York Post. Meanwhile, on most days the sports pages of the NYT have retreated from a section of its own to a few pages within the business section. And those pages seem to be diminishing…. Too bad, because in most areas, the NYT remains a journalistic paragon.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sakhi Khan Lays It All Out For You

I have yet to come across a better overall summary of things to think and work on to improve your squash game than the 27 tips found here:

The Squash Site

This is a great page to bookmark. The tips were penned by Sakhi Khan, head coach at Colby College, of the sainted Khan squash dynasty, now in its fourth generation. I refer to this list regularly, sometimes ruefully wondering why on earth I don’t do this tactic better, and sometimes just to remind myself of the tactics enumerated so I can go out and practice them next time I’m on court.

If you are a new player, the list will seem a bit overwhelming, but get a good pro to give you some lessons and keep plugging away at it. If you are an experienced player, some of the tips will seem too easy, but no matter what your skill some of the tips should be reviewed again and again. For instance, Khan’s discussion of the drop shot is worth a re-look from time to time. Like right now.

If you are a squash player and can execute these tactics and learn these tips, then you got game. This is your bible...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

World Exclusive: First Pics of FULL-CONTACT ROLLER-SQUASH

Rumors of the existence of this rare doubles sport have persisted, so your intrepid squashist was able to track it down and catch some of the action. Don’t forget to wear a helmet and mouthguard when you play.

Monday, September 14, 2009

T and Sympathy

The recent courtside debacle at the US Open tennis tournament, in which Serena Williams went ballistic during a tense but well-played semifinal against a resurgent Kim Clijsters, has sparked frenzied discussion around the blogosphere. Judging from early remarks, the blame has been heaped heavily and high on Serena, whose unusually surly (and un-serena) behavior during the entire match became overwrought when she was called for a foot fault. She then lost it, threatening, shaking her fist and using old Anglo-Saxon words, all of which were caught on tape: "If I could, I would take this [bleeping] ball and shove it down your [bleeping] throat!"

I got called (by my opponent) on a foot fault in a doubles squash match once, and it was definitely quite discombobulating, but I looked down at my feet, realized it was more than likely true, and got on with the match. Williams was so tightly wound before the call that any hope she could play out the match with any semblance of cool went out the window when she heard the lineswoman yell ‘foot fault!’

That behavior, plus an earlier racket-breaking incident, earned her a premature exit from the match, which by most accounts she was destined to lose anyway -- indeed, probably in another point or so. (Ms. Williams obviously didn't read my earlier blog about how top players demonstrate both high focus and low excitability....)

All of which serves as background to my point, which is that officiating at major sporting events is a very high-stress occupation. I dislike refereeing squash matches during tournaments, although if it is my duty I will certainly comply. But imagine the stress the tennis officials were under when they had to give match point to Clijsters because of Williams’s intemperate display. Many would likely have backed down, but the officials on duty did not dilly-dally; they made the call, and I believe it was the right call to make.

Have sympathy for the long-suffering squash ref as he stares at the two players dancing around the T. In the world of squash, the speed of the ball and the angles from which the referee(s) must watch the game all conspire to enhance the pressure of the moment. The result is stress, big time. To aid these officials in their masochistic profession, a website for squash officials has been created and updated by Squash Canada, with Barry Faguy editing. It is an informative and fun site to check out:

They tend to have updates three times every year, with the next online magazine due in October. While you are there, read this review of interesting comments overheard during squash matches, and be thankful you weren’t there to make the call:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Flip It, and Flip It Good

I apologize, but I have to bring up the Olympics debacle one more time. I have one of those Squash 2016 shirts with the snappy logo, the one that squash lovers all over the world, on 5 continents and in more than 175 countries, bought and wore to support the cause.

But it’s as worthless as yesterday’s newspaper now. Turns out squash wasn’t international enough, I guess.…

So what to do?

Oh, I know…. If I flip the numbers, it reads Squash 9102.

They say fashion comes in waves, returning in cycles over and over again. So I’ll hold onto the shirt, flip the numbers, and wait till 9102. I can guarantee we’ll be in by then, or I’ll give you all your money back.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Happy Feet

Watching the US Open quarterfinal match between Melanie Oudin, the US teenager, and Caroline Wozniacki, a slightly older Danish teenager, I was reminded of the odd tennis habit of Happy Feet.

Men tennis players do this too, with a quick little side-by-side shuffle performed just before receiving an opponent's serve. But some of the women players take the Happy Feet concept to extraordinary levels by doing a high-stepping lindy-like hopping dance, which sometimes can last as long as a minute. The idea I believe is to keep moving on the court so that your body doesn't start feeling rooted to the ground, letting lactic acid start to build up, and you keep yourself mentally aware by engaging in the proprioceptive art of movement.

There doesn't seem to be any direct squash equivalent to this behavior. I sometimes like to bend down and bob a bit side-to-side, just to exercise my quads a bit, and I've seen plenty of others do this, but I can't remember playing anyone whose feet actually got Happy by hopping around the court. You would think the extra movement of Happy Feet would be inappropriate, given that it expends energy. What is it with these tennis players, anyway? Can anybody explain this to me? Or are they all mad?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

OMG, Don’t Send Your Kids To School Today!!!

Today is the day when US President Barack Obama is set to address the nation’s kids on the importance of individual effort and personal responsibility. He is also going to indoctrinate as many of these precious youngsters as he can into the evil ways of socialism!

And with that line of thinking, some hard-right parents have vowed to leave their kids at home today to avoid this unprecedented assault.

There are stupid people all over, on the right and on the left, in rural chicken-shack towns and glass-and-steel mega-cities. It’s all in the genes, not the demographics, and not which side of the political spectrum you inhabit.

This story is inane, but so much of today’s politics is inane that one can get depressed mighty quickly if one thinks too much about it. Maybe today’s misguided parents, busy conjuring up phantoms in the shadows where none exist, ought to go out and have a good whack at a squash ball. The endorphins that result from physical activity (as well as heightened arousal and pain) might improve their mood. The effect from endorphins is similar to that of an opiate, and includes analgesia and a light-hearted bonhomie that seems in short supply lately.

I like people who think, not those who set off clucking just because the big chicken seems to think that a particular grain of sand is worth clucking over. Squash is a mind game, so maybe they should get out there and work their minds as they are bathing in endorphins – it’s a win-win!

Grow up, you cluckers!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Losing the Point Winningly

One of the commentators on the live PSA feed from the Chicago US Open described Ramy Ashour as a guy who “plays with a smile on his face.” When you watch him play there is the feeling that he is having a good time out there and also that he understands he is privileged to be someone who inhabits the topmost rung of the game.

I’ve never met the man, but I’ve always liked him, and his reputation was cemented over the weekend in his finals match with his rival, Amr Shabana. The match was knotted at 2 apiece, but with the score 9-7 in the fifth game, Shabana ahead, a backhand drop shot was called up, which if true would have put Ashour just one point away. The truth was the shot was down, which Ashour told the referee. By so doing he was giving match ball to his opponent. He went on to lose the game and the match.

Ask yourself honestly if you would have given match ball to your opponent at your club--just a friendly match, not the club championship but just a friendly. A lot of people out there would probably hesitate, though I’m confident many would ultimately admit the truth. But for Ashour to fess up under such circumstances is a testament to him, and also the game.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

All Wall and None of the Ball

Last night I watched the live PSA feed of the Ramy Ashour v. Wael El Hindi quarter-final match from the US Open tournament in Chicago. Ashour won it handily, 11-4, 11-6, 13-11, with only the final game having any real drama. Those who know El Hindi describe him as an affable fellow, but he also has a reputation for being one of the most disputatious players in pro squash. Any let call is seen as an opportunity for comment, and any hope of a let point is a straw at which he will assuredly grasp. I wish players wouldn't do that.

Nonetheless, he is still a top player, although as pointed out in the PSA feed's excellent commentary last night, his rankings have recently taken a tumble. Stalking the court in his trademark sleeveless shirt, however, he can still make surprising gets and conjure up unusual shots.

But he is no match for Ashour, who among a list of his many strengths must be added 21-year-old knees. Ah, I remember them....

There was one moment in the match where both players were trading left-wall rails when El Hindi hit a beautiful rail whose length looked like it would be trouble for Ashour to get, so he decided to intercept it before it died in the back corner. He was right on top of the action and swung hard into the ball, only to get all the wall and none of the ball. Ramy glared at the wall a second, shook his head just a little, and got back into the match. It was nice to see Ramy and I share the all-the-wall-none-of-the-ball shot; I know it well.

Appreciation should go out to US Squash for making this live feed available on its site, and PSA for putting on the show. I'd like to be in Chicago right about now....

Friday, September 4, 2009

Women on Court 3!

What is it about a squash-playing woman that reverts the average racket-wielding joe into a goofy knock-kneed fifth grader?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at my club playing a match, minding my own business, working up a good sweat and trying to return the favor to my opponent, when between games someone will walk over to our court and mutter something about the presence of women players who have been spied playing a match a court or two away.

This is received as electric news, worthy of immediate investigation! Women players! Here?! Woo-hoo!

So the match is stopped and the decision is made to reconnoiter. Let’s just check this out…. But just like in fifth grade, you are self-conscious about going over and blatantly gawking. You have to play it cool; you are just going to casually stroll by, have a look, and get back to your game. You are a New York City sophisticate, for god sake!, so you pull yourself together, and off you go.

You stare at these creatures, marvelling at their form. There is something very sexy about a fit woman running the diagonal, glistening a bit with sweat, sure of her footwork and her positioning. You take in the sight, approving the backhand, the lunging, the skin…. The Squashist is married, and happily so, so the activity on court 3 is for him only an exercise in aesthetics.

The percentage of girls who play squash through high school is not so different from that for boys, but as the girls go on to college and become women, participation has historically dropped off. After graduation, the dual challenges of career and motherhood further reduce the number of female players.

Over the last few years, however, I have noticed an uptick in female participation, and though I am not sure why this has happened, I welcome the development. I like taking a break from my matches to check out the exotic creatures on court 3! Women, be advised: the Squashist may be watching….

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

On Cool Excitability

There are many people who call themselves 'sports nuts' whose idea of sport is to settle down upon their gluteus maximus with a bag of chips and a six of beer at their elbow. Although don’t get me wrong, engaging in these ‘7-course dinners’ on occasion can be fun….

But I’m the type of sports nut that loves to go out and play sports. I love the competition and the camaraderie, and I find nothing more rewarding than the lactic acid buzz experienced after an especially grueling match.

My thing is racket sports. Obviously, I love squash, but I also love tennis, and I’ve also found a good deal of enjoyment playing paddle tennis, court tennis, table tennis and even racquetball. I’ve won tournaments in tennis, racquetball, and squash: If there’s a racket involved, count me in.

Over the years one of the things I have come to find fascinating is the psychology of sport, and how one day you can walk out on the court and be perfectly ‘in the zone,’ feeling that your fitness level is fantastic and you seemingly have extra time with which to hit your shots. Other days, you are frantically careening around the court, unable to find a groove and forced to play defensively and frantically.

I’ve been there, believe me. So I was interested recently to read a sports psychologist who delineated the two aspects of sport without which success at an elite level is highly unlikely. The psychologist wrote that two seemingly contradictory qualities are often found in the very best athletes:
• an unusual ability to hyper-focus on what is going on in the game, and
• an unusually low level of excitability over the vicissitudes of the game itself.

The hyper-focus is expressed by the proprioception with which world-class athletes are blessed, in which they keep intimate track of not only their body as it moves through space but also their opponent’s body, the ball, how the ball is spinning, how their legs will be positioned in 8 steps when they predict they will have reached the ball, and whether they can maneuver their body in such a way that they can deceive their opponent into thinking they are hitting a particular shot that they in fact have no intention of hitting. This proprioceptive ability is congenital, to a degree, but that is not to say that they haven’t worked on it over the years.

But the more amazing feature of top athletes is their low excitability. You don’t see Federer throwing his racket when he flubs a shot or, before him, Bjorn Borg, the Swedish tennis great. And likewise you didn't see the great Peter Nicol, world #1 in squash for so many years, express anything other than the conviction that he had played his best, and if he didn’t win, well, next time would be different. There’s a compelling confidence that exudes from these top athletes, but there’s also a demeanor that expresses itself by low excitability.

There are of course exceptions to the above observation—need I remind anyone of the perfectly deplorable McEnroe? But these exceptions are rare. You would think that being highly focused in a sporting contest would almost necessitate a high degree of excitability, as it is occasionally in my case. I’ve been known to yell anguished cries, hurl my racket in either despair or glee, and do my very own ‘braggadocio walk,’ which I do to psych out my opponents when I’ve hit an improbable winner—it looks a little like Mussolini strutting around waving a racket. (This is, by design, highly obnoxious.) But most of the time I remain calm, at least outwardly, despite the occasional inner-directed firestorm of accusations I must quietly endure.

I think that the twin goals of remaining acutely focused and blessedly calm or worth striving for, both on the court and off, at work and at home with your family. So be cool, people.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Racket Porno and Gruntworthiness

Here in New York City the US Open Grand Slam tennis tournament has just begun, and the sounds of tennis are everywhere: the plock, plock of the nicely struck ball; the squeak, squeak of the well-sneakered foot as it drags along the court’s hard surface; and the grunt, grunt of players hurling themselves about the court.

The Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is not some sleazy hotel off a blue highway near LA, but if you were to turn the TV’s monitor off and just listen to the grunting, sighing and shrieking, you would be forgiven for thinking you had just stumbled upon a porn flick. This is not porno, but the audible ejaculations that one hears on the tennis court nowadays make for a kind of racket porno whose problematic noise level is now coming to a head.

Last night I happened to watch Venus Williams barely beat an unseeded Russian, Vera Dushevina. The Russian made no noise whatsoever, and her largely impassive face betrayed emotion only occasionally by an uplifted eyebrow or downcasted, woe-is-me shake of the head. Venus, on the other hand, grunted and shrieked away with every shot, something that she has always done with gusto. It didn’t seem to bother Ms. Dushevina, although not too long ago there were complaints lodged against the Williams sisters, and others, for their noisy utterances.

Indeed, women tennis players seem to revel in loud tennis play. According to one report (see Times Online), here’s how their grunts compare:

Grunt Comparison (in decibels)
Lion’s roar 110
Maria Sharapova 101
Monica Seles 93.2
Serena Williams 88.9
Lindsay Davenport 88
Venus Williams 85
Victoria Azarenka 83.5
Elena Bovina 81
Anna Kournikova 78.5
Kim Clijsters 75
Elena Dementieva 73

But the presence of on-court grunting has reached a crisis level with the arrival of Michelle Larcher de Brito, a 16-year-old Portuguese who is a very good player but truly a world-class grunter. Her shrieks are not only unusually loud but also obnoxiously prolonged. Her opponents have complained, loudly, and there have been calls for umpires to award her opponents with points based on a rarely enforced rule covering ‘deliberate hindrance’ with which players can be punished for yelling. And the governing bodies of tennis are considering implementing more stringent rules to enforce a more muted game, all in hopes of getting Ms. Larcher de Brito to stick a cork in it.

In the world of squash, on the other hand, silence continues unabated. As far as I can tell, the only rule covering on-court utterances in squash is #17.2, which covers ‘audible … obscenities’ and ‘verbal … abuse.’ Grunting a little would not seem to be included in this rule, but you would be surprised how many times people have either looked at me strangely or flat-out admonished me to not make any noise on court.

That’s right, I’m admitting it right here, I’m a bit of a grunter. Hell, I’m old, relatively, and at 50 what was once a gruntless pastime has become more gruntworthy. It helps me focus on the task at hand to give out a little grunt, or so I believe; indeed, tennis players are taught that grunting (at a reasonable level) is good for muscular control and mental focus.

Furthermore, I believe that the groan of effort is not only perfectly acceptable but also adds something to the spectator’s appreciation of the sport. If that terrific shot you just made was gruntworthy, let the spectators know it! Squash is so fast that many viewers find it hard to understand the sport’s subtleties and physical demands. So show them!

As for me, I grunt a bit, big deal!, and when an opponent barks that I should not be making any noise on court, you know what I do? I grunt back and play on….