LONDON (Reuters) - Portuguese teen-ager Michelle Larcher De Brito swept silently into the second round at Wimbledon Monday and then defiantly refused to stop screeching if her matches get tougher.
The 16-year-old made headlines at the French Open when she wailed and screeched so loudly on court that her opponent complained to the umpire.
Silence reigned in her 6-2 7-5 Wimbledon defeat of Klara Zakopalova. She barely made enough noise to frighten a bird from the trees. Trappist monks would have been proud of her.
Nine times Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova had joined a chorus of complaints about the noise level in women’s tennis -- but the defiant teen-ager will not be toning it down.
”Nobody can tell me to stop grunting,“ she told a news conference after a first round win over her Czech opponent. ”Tennis is an individual sport and I‘m an individual player.
“If they have to fine me, go ahead because I’d rather get fined than lose a match because I had to stop grunting,” she said.
The news conference moderator fought a losing battle trying to keep questions about the noise she makes to a minimum -- and Larcher de Brito, a media-savvy pupil from Nick Bollettieri’s Florida tennis academy, kept batting her answers back.
But she certainly won’t be turning down the decibels when the matches get harder.
“Definitely if the matches are going to be tougher, obviously I‘m going to start grunting,” she said.
“I‘m just here for myself. I‘m not here really to be quiet for anybody. I‘m here to play. I‘m here to win. That’s it. If people don’t like my grunting, they can always leave.”
On an overcast afternoon at Wimbledon, Court 17 was packed although reporters and fans hoping for fireworks from the teen-ager were disappointed. Many of the “noise ghouls” left after a subdued first set.
They were treated to the occasional exhalation of exasperation but even a spate of double faults were greeted by Larcher De Brito dropping her shoulders rather than raising her voice.
Clearly irritated by the media spotlight that concentrated more on her tonsils than her tennis ability, she said: “The only thing they’re really focusing on is my grunting. So it has been a bit unfair.”
“I don’t want this to affect my tennis, and I don’t want anything to get into my head because I‘m starting to get confidence. I don’t want that to get ruined because of something a bit ridiculous,” she added.
However, the Portuguese maintained her sense of humor amid the media onslaught when, with a big grin, she mockingly told reporters: “Well, I tried to be quiet for you guys today.”
Editing by Ken Ferris