Belfast Telegraph

Australian Open: Injured Venus survives battle of the grunters

Andy Murray said on Twitter that he had “never heard so much noise in a tennis match” while Ross Hutchins, his Davis Cup colleague, said Venus Williams was “making noises that I didn't think were possible”.

On a day when all the major women's second-round singles matches went to form here at the Australian Open, with Britain's Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha among those who lost to higher-ranked opponents, a talking point for many was the grunting and groaning that has become such an unappealing part of the modern game.

Maria Sharapova shrieked her way to a 7-6, 6-3 victory over Virginie Razzano — “It was my first time to play her and I didn't know she cried like this,” her French opponent said afterwards — but an even noisier encounter was to follow as Williams won a dramatic match 6-7, 6-0, 6-4 against the Czech Republic's Sandra Zahlavova.

If Williams had reason to groan after damaging a groin muscle at the end of the first set tie-break, there was little excuse for Zahlavova's grunting. “Was a lot of noise out there,” Murray tweeted later. “I turned it on and thought someone was giving birth.”

Michael Warburton, an Australian “exercise scientist”, told the “Herald Sun” newspaper that hearing Sharapova was equivalent to standing next to a police car with sirens sounding or “using a chainsaw without ear muffs”.

He added: “People tend to criticise tennis players who vocalise, but research shows it is worth the effort for the strength, energy, performance and force it generates. Strength is increased by about 12 per cent with a grunt or scream.”

Williams yelped in agony after reaching for a volley on the last point of the tie-break and hobbled off court to take a medical time-out before the second set.

She returned with her right thigh strapped and went on to win with something to spare as Zahlavova failed to take advantage of her impaired mobility.

Williams, who has never quit in her 257 Grand Slam singles matches, said afterwards that the injury was the most painful she had ever suffered.

At the end of the match the American asked courtside staff to help carry off her equipment bag and rackets, though she clung on to the trendy handbag that complemented what she described as her “Alice in Wonderland” outfit, a lattice top with a multi-coloured satin skirt and skin-coloured underwear.

Judy Murray, Andy's mother, said on Twitter that, while she liked the outfit, the skirt looked as if Williams had been sick on it.

Williams' win meant that Keothavong went on court knowing the prize for victory over Andrea Petkovic would be a third-round meeting with the five-times Wimbledon champion.

With Petkovic, the world No 33, misfiring and Keothavong attacking at every opportunity, the 27-year-old Briton took the first set and broke at the start of the second.

However, a horrible mistake on break point in the next game, when Keothavong netted what should have been a routine put-away, helped to turn the match.

The world No 118 fought back from 5-3 down, but from 5-5 lost eight games in succession as Petkovic took the match 2-6, 7-5, 6-0. Keothavong’s first-round victory should see her return to the world's top 100.

“I felt like I had to win that match in two sets,” she said afterwards. “I've played Andrea before. When she's got a bit of momentum and confidence she's a tough player to pin down. But overall I've had quite a few matches here. You can't underestimate how mentally draining coming through qualifying and everything else is.”

Baltacha will drop a few places from her No 55 position in the rankings after her 6-1, 6-3 defeat to Justine Henin, but said it had been “a really amazing experience” to play “an unbelievable legend”.

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