The "familiar debate over on-court decibel levels has resurfaced" after Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka "drew mockery from the Melbourne Park crowd on Tuesday night" during her first-round Australian Open defeat to Ashleigh Barty, according to the London GUARDIAN. Sabalenka "was her usual vocal self from the outset on Rod Laver Arena and the partisan crowd let their displeasure known by imitating her shrieks" in between points. At one stage, "the umpire was forced to ask for quiet in the stands," although her choice of words -- “Ladies and gentlemen please, during the rally, do not scream" -- only seemed to make fans "redouble their efforts" and Sabalenka’s service preparation "was interrupted by further impressions." While Barty said that she was "not unduly affected, plenty viewing from afar were." Former doubles champion Todd Woodbridge tweeted, "Nice player Sabalenka but something needs to be done about her noise and grunting on court." Commentator Pam Shriver tweeted, "Sabalenka has 347 different sounding grunts. What a talent." Tennys Sandgren, who plays Stan Wawrinka in the second round at Melbourne Park, tweeted, "I don’t know how many times this girl has grunted into Barty’s swing, but man it’s really getting to me. It’s clearly affecting her play" (GUARDIAN, 1/16).
NAME CHANGE?: In London, Kevin Mitchell reported Laura Robson has come out in favor of "renaming the Margaret Court Arena, becoming the first current player at the Australian Open to advocate doing so." The former British No. 1 "believes Court’s outspoken and controversial views about LGBT issues and same‑sex marriage do merit action" from Tennis Australia and the Victorian government. Billie Jean King "spoke out strongly against Court on the eve of the tournament" but players competing in the year’s first grand slam event "have been reluctant to get involved in the row" (GUARDIAN, 1/17).
Horse Racing Ireland anticipates crowds of up to 24,000 people for the upcoming inaugural "Dublin Racing Festival" at Leopardstown, according to Brian O'Connor of the IRISH TIMES. The Dublin track currently has capacity for up to 18,000 at a time. When the €1.5M ($1.8M) initiative was unveiled last September, champion jockey Ruby Walsh predicted the new fixtures from Feb. 3-4 would "have to fill the place." However, HRI Racecourses CEO John Osborne "played down such expectation during the latest promotional event" for the new festival. He said, "I think we’re looking at 24,000 over the two days." Increasing racing’s profile "in Dublin city in particular is one of the major aims of the new festival initiative" (IRISH TIMES, 1/16).
The "dominant feature" of Morocco’s bid to stage the 2026 World Cup "appears to be that no one talks about it," according to Tariq Panja of the N.Y. TIMES. In contrast to the joint candidacy of the U.S., Mexico and Canada -- a bid announced last August "atop the Freedom Tower in New York with firm handshakes and signed contracts" -- Morocco revealed its entry into the race in a "two-sentence statement that, in hindsight, seems verbose." Five months later, Moroccan football officials "have provided scant detail about how they propose to stage the world’s biggest sporting event." With five months to go before FIFA selects the 2026 WC host, Morocco "only last week" named a chair of its bid committee. The bid currently has "no logo to paste on billboards, no slogan to trumpet in news releases, no flashy stadium plan to share with potential voters." It does not "even have a website." Last week, numerous local football officials "recoiled when asked to comment on the plans and declined to discuss the bid on the record." Moroccan football officials "are privately playing down doubts about their bid." They insist they have "the resources to host the event." So far, though, "little about the plans has been revealed publicly" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/16).