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Volume 24 No. 117

Leagues and Governing Bodies

The WTA Thursday said that "grunting is a problem in women's tennis but is throwing in the towel when it comes to the current crop of offenders, choosing to concentrate instead on future generations," according to Douglas Robson of USA TODAY. In board meetings last weekend at the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Fla., tour leadership "agreed to focus on education and enforcement of existing rules for up-and-coming players." The WTA said that after "consulting with experts such as Nick Bollettieri it would be unfair to make current pros alter their breathing mechanics." WTA CMO Andrew Walker said that the "details and implementation of its strategy remain a work in progress." Robson reports no consensus was reached "about what age to introduce training or stricter enforcement." Grunting has come "under scrutiny due to the loud and elongated noise made by top players" such as current world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and No. 2 Maria Sharapova. The WTA at this year's Australian Open said that it "hoped to have a full plan in place by its meetings this month." However, that has been "pushed back to the U.S. Open in August" (USA TODAY, 3/30). In Miami, Linda Robertson wrote Marion Bartoli's upset of Azarenka in the Sony Ericsson Open quarterfinals Wednesday was a "victory for the soft-spoken," as Bartoli "hardly makes a peep when she plays." Robertson wrote when players grunt loudly, the "volume and length of the sounds detracts from the game." Fans "shouldn’t have to plug their ears or mute their TV to enjoy a match." Nor should "quiet opponents such as Bartoli have to listen to noise pollution." Azarenka told a reporter last month grunting is "natural to me." Robertson: "Since when is screeching on every single shot at the same decibel level of a subway train or jackhammer natural?" It is "past time to silence the excessive noise." The WTA "recognizes that fans find grunting to be a turnoff" (MIAMI HERALD, 3/29).

Mariners manager Eric Wedge said that he “wouldn't have changed a thing” about the team’s trip to Japan to open the MLB season against the A’s, and his players “got plenty out of it and gave some back to their warm Japanese hosts,” according to Geoff Baker of the SEATTLE TIMES. Several players “participated in autograph sessions at public venues,” while others “took a tour up to tsunami-ravaged Ishinomaki to conduct a baseball clinic for children inside the disaster zone.” Wedge said, "I was really proud of our players with what they did and the way they spent their time here. It was a fantastic trip in that respect." Mariners 1B Justin Smoak said, "It was definitely an experience. To come over here and see a different culture. It was fun seeing how baseball is played over here. It was a lot of fun." Baker writes the Mariners players “made excellent community ambassadors,” and they leave behind “the sense that they never did find that balance between the off-field stuff and the on-field performance” (SEATTLE TIMES, 3/30). Wedge said, “I’ve been impressed with so many things on so many levels -- the people, the culture, the baseball -- the two (Japanese) teams took it to us pretty good.” Mariners President & COO Chuck Armstrong: “It was time we came, and we’re glad we did. People have been wonderful, and I’m glad we went up north to visit in the disaster zone. It’s been tremendous” (Tacoma NEWS TRIBUNE, 3/30).

QUESTIONABLE TIMING: The Mariners and A's will play several exhibition games in the U.S. after splitting the two regular-season games in Japan, and Denver Post columnist Woody Paige asked, “How do you play the opening game of the regular season and then go back and play Spring Training games? Makes no sense.” He added of the two Japan games, “I didn’t know it happened to be perfectly frank.” SB Nation's Bomani Jones said, “What they effectively did was put stakes on exhibition games. Those games are so that the Japanese people could see (Mariners RF Ichiro Suzuki) and see those teams and watch a real live baseball game.” Columnist Kevin Blackistone: “We’ve got 30 teams that are going to have 30 real home openers, a 162-game schedule. Nobody’s going to be talking about this at the All-Star break.” However, ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan said, “It’s called the globalization of the game. It’s just a necessary evil” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 3/28). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said MLB should “open the season where your fans live.” ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser: “What makes the least amount of sense in this is you’re going to have these games in Japan and then these same two teams are going to play exhibition games. ... I understand the lure of foreign markets, but this is an American sport. Have your opening games in the United States” (“PTI,” ESPN, 3/28). Former MLB GM Steve Phillips said the games suffered from "very poor marketing." Phillips: "It wasn’t a mistake to play in Japan, the international growth of the game is critical. It was the wrong teams; you’ve got west coast teams. Even if they broadcast it live, it was three o’clock in the morning. ... A lot of good reasons to do it, but that didn’t market it like they should have” (“Varney & Company,” Fox Business, 3/30).

INSOMNIAC THEATER: The two games were played at 3:10am and 2:10am PT, and’s Ann Killion said, “Nobody knows it happened." Killion: "It is not an honor, it is not a privilege. It’s a joke. ... We know that they made the A’s go because they don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to arguing with the people who give them revenue-sharing checks.”’s Ray Ratto said, “I’m not bothered by the fact that they opened in Japan. It’s that they didn’t think it was worthy to put it on their own network live. That’s nuts, and they deserve all the grief they get for it” (“Chronicle Live,” Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 3/28). In Boston, Chad Finn notes he would give a “tip of the cap to the MLB Network for listening to viewer feedback and deciding to air Thursday’s A’s-Mariners game live rather than on tape delay, as it had done for Wednesday’s regular-season opener” (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/30).