The other morning I was keen to check out the blockbuster first round matchup at the US Open of number two seed Simona Halep up against five time major winner Maria Sharapova. I was ready, I’d pottered around in the kitchen, cooked up a mushroom omelette, brewed some coffee and plonked down in the lounge chair, turned the TV on and was bombarded with a wall of grunting noise.
I guess I wasn’t ready for it and felt like I was in the shrieking wind tunnel; my imaginary hair being blown back, needless to say the TV sound went to zero. I watched the whole match, it was a great match, a 3 set thriller watched in silence. I wondered how many ‘casual’ tennis or run of the mill sports fans just changed the channel.
Sharapova is at the top of the grunting cake, but other noise masters include Muguruza, Halep, Schiavone, and Serena. Its not just confined to the Ladies though, the Men can tickle the ears, hear Nadal, Djokovic and Bautista Agut, they can surely turn it into ‘grunt fest’.
There are different styles of grunting, we’ve got the Bautista Agut “I’ll wait till the ball crosses the net” grunt , the Schiavone “I’m lifting a block of cement” grunt, the Sharapova “I’m being strangled” grunt, the Nadal “they just killed my favourite TV character” grunt and finally the Larcher de brito “this grunt is unbelievable” grunt.
So, who can we blame for all this grunting? It’s hard to say. Jimmy Connors was an early grunter and somewhere in the 80’s super coach Nick Bollettieri starting teaching ‘exhaling’ whilst striking the ball at his Florida tennis academy. He claimed it helped with ‘releasing energy’, the ‘exhaling’ morphed into grunting/shrieking.
Monica Seles lost the 1992 Wimbledon final in silence against Steffi Graf after her semi final opponent Martina Navratilova complained to the umpire about the grunting, years later Seles regretted the decision to stay silent.
The ITF have what’s called a ‘Hindrance’ rule that states “if a player is hindered in playing a point by a deliberate act of the opponent, the player shall win the point…” The rule doesn’t specifically mention noise and I’ve yet to see an umpire enforce this rule because of grunting.
The WTA five years ago were concerned about what grunting was doing to the sport and had planned to bring in ‘decibel’ meters on court, trying to control the noise level. That plan has since been shelved under new CEO Steve Simon.
So what are we left with? Well, I think grunting is here to stay. Until the bigwigs get serious about it and drive it out of the sport at the Pro level through enforced rules and fines we’ll be listening to the grunters with our mushroom omelettes and coffee. Either that or you can turn down the volume or just don’t watch.