9/9/12

Dear United States Tennis Association

Dear United States Tennis Association,

So far the 2012 U.S. Open has been jolly good sport. We had a little rain on Saturday, which caused me to grimace, look to the sky disapprovingly and button the top clasp of my tweed coat, but the matches have been exciting and the chardonnay stations particularly dry.

Naturally, I had every intention of watching the semifinal match between Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka on Friday, but I was distracted by a booth set up by the Twee Stately Gentleman's Imperial Yacht Club. I've always had a longing for me and my yacht to belong to something bigger than ourselves, and I ended up perusing brochures and swapping ascot knotting tips with the gentleman behind the counter for over an hour. I still might have made it to the match if it hadn't been for the complementary brie cheese sampling going on across from the yacht club booth.

A friend of mine was in attendance however, and so I walked up to the stadium as the match was ending and people were beginning to leave. My friend was one of the first ones to come out of the gates. His wife followed close behind. They both looked a little confused, almost as if they had gotten lost and didn't know where they were.

"How was the match?" I asked excitedly, walking up to the couple. My friend looked at my face for several troubled moments before he recognized me.

"Oh, hey Sebastian." his voice rang hollow.

"So... how was the match?"I pressed on, determined to hear the final result.

"Yeah, good. It was good." His gaze darted nervously from side to side. His wife's eyes looked empty and haunted. I looked to her, hoping she could explain what was going on, but she refused to make eye contact with me and stared at the ground instead.

"What's going on with you guys?" I noticed more people trickling out of the stadium, grouped together in twos and threes. Most of them had their arms wrapped around someone. A few were crying. 

"What the hell happened in there?" I demanded. My friend grimaced. He was visibly shaken. His hand tremored as he raised it to his forehead and ran his fingers back through his hair. He tried to look me in the eye but blushed and looked over my shoulder instead. His voice sounded like it was coming from somewhere far away.

"It was kind of uncomfortable in there."

"The noises they made..." his wife began to sob.

"At first we tried to ignore it... just, you know, pretend like it wasn't a big deal," he continued. "But Jesus Christ. What they did in there was disgusting."

"The tennis play was that bad?" I asked.

"Tennis?" He looked lost again. "Oh, that's right. It was supposed to be a tennis match. I couldn't tell you about that part. It's hard to focus on something like 'tennis' when two people are screaming like castrated goats for three hours, filling your ears with the kind of shriveling, inhuman death-wail that a troop of howler monkeys being burned alive wouldn't have been able to drown out." His wife cried softly into his shoulder. "Excuse us, Sebastian," he said, "we have to go. somewhere." I saw a solitary tear trace its way down his hard, weathered cheek. He wrapped his arm around his wife again and they walked past me. I watched as they slowly made their way down the ramp and out of sight. The emptying stadium echoed softly with low moans and solitary sobs. An occasional wail of agony rang out into the crisp autumn air.

Enough is enough, U.S. Tennis Association. I know it's been a subject of debate for years now, but Friday's match between Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova went beyond the pale. There are some other noise makers in today's tennis. Serena Williams has quite a grunt. Gustavo Kuerten and Michelle Larcher de Brito are up-and-coming groaners who could someday menace the game on an entirely new level. 

But on Friday, for the first time in U.S. Open history, the world's number 1 wailer went head to head against the number 2 groaner, and the results were emotionally damaging for everyone involved. The U.S. Tennis Association had gotten used to playing with fire without getting burned, but this time we all payed the price for the U.S.T.A's cowardly reluctance to deal with this safety issue head on. It wasn't Azarenka or Sharapova's wretched, tortured screams alone that created this auditory apocalypse; this cacophony of pain. It was a Perfect Storm of moans, a wretched brew of interacting frequencies, and it perfectly illustrates how out of hand this whole thing has gotten. 

That said, I have to lay the lion's share of the guilt at the feet of Victoria Azarenka. At least Sharapova only screams like a pig being fucked up the shit shooter by Ron Jeremy wearing a concertina-wire condom. Azarenka has a warbling quality to her effort-moan that sounds like a North American Loon having its intestines ripped out through its throat.




I asked both women why they feel it's necessary to pass the air being expelled from their lungs OVER their vocal chords instead of just exhaling like normal people. Unfortunately, I was only able to speak with them during a match. I don't speak Wavering-Shriek or Grunt, so I wasn't able to decipher their answers, but the shrugged shoulders and "shucks-I-don't-know" hand gestures seemed to indicate that these tennis stars are unable to account for their actions

I blind-folded ten of my friends, had them listen to an Azarenka tennis match, and then I asked them to describe what they were hearing. Nine out of ten said they assumed they were hearing a very athletic, very mentally ill woman running down the halls of an insane asylum, artfully evading medical personnel while smearing her own feces all over her body. The tenth friend correctly told me we were watching Azarenka play tennis. Then he took off the blind fold and with several swift, powerful motions, kicked my TV in. "You could have just turned it off," I said. "That wouldn't have been quick enough," he answered. He had a point.

Granted, the world is full of grating sounds. I sent an e-mail to psychologist and auditory specialist, Dr. Schnabel von Rom, to find out what made these grunt-shrieks especially damaging to the human nervous system. He was gracious enough to answer.










The horrific effects of a double-grunter tennis match were all too well known to Dr. Schnabel von Rom. In a follow up e-mail, he expressed surprise that the U.S. Tennis Association had been, "so cavalier in their preparedness for this inevitable eventuality. Sharapova and Azarenka met earlier this year at the Australian Open, and the consequences were devastating. I saw Friday's match on TV. It made me want to blow my brains out. Instead of doing that I pressed the 'mute' button, of course."

Unfortunately for the spectators on Friday, there was no 'mute' button at the live event. And Dr. Schnabel von Rom speculated that the spectators in the stadium were probably subjected to further frequency ranges which the TV equipment was incapable of recording. "God only knows what it would have been like actually being there. My heart goes out to the poor bastards." Dr. Schnable ended his last correspondence by offering to donate his time counseling the victims of Friday's auditory assault.

I don't know what the solution to this problem is, but the USTA needs to find one. Have you considered asking Sharapova and Azarenka not to breathe while playing? Or the match could be played underwater, where sound waves don't travel as far. Better yet they could play in space, where sound doesn't travel at all. Perhaps you could coax Azarenka and Sharapova into an early retirement by promising them lifetime, honorary spots at rankings one and two in the world, respectively. It would suck not being able to give the top two spots to anyone else for the next sixty years, but I think that would be a small price to pay, all things considered. The whole thing casts the sport of tennis in a horrible light, and ruins the experience for fans and normal players. This is almost as bad as the time that Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi's wicked-sick old man BO mingled, co-mingled, re-mingled, and finally combined to form the rotting-eggs-hiding-in-a-nursing-home-diaper scent later named the "stenchonaut" which drove three hundred front-row spectators out of the stadium and effectively ended the 2002 U.S. Open in a permanent draw because Agassi and Sampras were afraid to go near each other ever again.

Sincerely,
Sebastian Braff