Tennis’ No. 1 Pet Peeve: Grunting

Grunting has become the No. 1 pet peeve in tennis. The ringing in my ears has finally stopped from Victoria Azarenka’s win over Maria Sharapova last week, but that match still has fans riled up.

Their grunting was sort of a tag-team thing, with one starting up at the exact moment the other stopped. And they were both outrageously loud.

What can be done? What should be done?

I think we need to differentiate between grunting and what’s going on on the women’s tour. That is screaming on purpose to distract the opponent.

Even the grunting can be gamesmanship. Honestly, I’ve been guilty of that myself. But the screaming crosses the line into out-and-out-cheating.

Azarenka’s “grunt’’ is not just some of natural exertion of air. It goes on and on all the way into Sharapova’s shot.

That should be legislated against.

There is an evolution to the grunt going on here, and God knows what could possibly come next. I’m not sure, but it might involve megaphones.

I asked Monica Seles about her grunting once, and she was defensive, saying that she did not start it, Jimmy Connors did.

If he was the birth of the grunt, and it’s doubtful he was, it was nothing like what these women are doing today. Seles had her double-scream going, but it wasn’t anything like this, either.

The truth is, loud grunting doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. When I’m playing, I don’t even hear it.

I’ve taught my kids to grunt when they’re playing, as it helps them to be more aggressive. You can let up on a serve and grunt twice as loud, creating an impression that the ball’s coming faster than it is.

Grunting has three purposes, as far as I can tell: To find your rhythm and timing, to get aggressive or to really annoy your opponent.

All three of those are pretty good.

The Williams sisters grunt twice as loud on big points, to bully and intimidate. If that works, then good for them.

But if your grunt goes all the way into your opponent’s shot, then that’s cheating. There must be some sort of rule or code or something prohibiting people from screaming when their opponent is hitting.

You hate to leave too many things to a subjective decision by chair umpires, but they should be able to give lets, warnings and eventually point-penalties for that.

But what would the rule be? A grunt has to be commensurate with the shot? It has to stop by the time the ball crosses the net?

It will just have to be a judgment call.

Tennis isn’t likely to stop anything anyway. It comes mostly on the women’s side of the game. For one, it creates discussion. Also, it comes off as semi-pornographic to have fit, young women in short skirts grunting and screaming.

That’s a big part of what sells in women’s tennis.

Some players argue that they aren’t doing it intentionally.

They are lying. Nobody has to scream for two seconds after blocking a return of serve.

And throughout the history of tennis, no one has had this “natural’’ reaction. Now, lots of women do?

Listen to this video of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. That sound you hear? Silence.

As of last year, I had never seen Michelle Larcher de Brito, reknowned screamer, in person. So I made a point at Indian Wells to go to one of her matches.

She didn’t grunt at all. That tells you it’s voluntary.

And tennis can’t let one player scream while the other is hitting, yet tell fans “Quiet Please’’ for snapping pictures during a point.

So maybe fans can rise up together and create a Contract with Tennis Players:

I’ll shut up if you shut up.


About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

4 responses to “Tennis’ No. 1 Pet Peeve: Grunting

  • roGER

    Too right!

    I’ve lost count of the number of casual fans who said they switched off when certain players were on because of the yelps and screams – it was just too irritating for them to get any enjoyment from the match.

    As for the cheating aspect, this scientific study makes it clear – grunting distracts an opponent in a significant and measurable way:

    “The findings are clear-cut. When a grunt occurs opponents are significantly slower (21-33ms) and make significantly more decision errors (3-4%) regarding the direction of the ball both for easy and hard decisions alike.”…/cogsci10_proceedings.pdf

    Nick Bolliteri has a lot to answer for with regards to the grunters. He denies teaching it in his tennis school, but the facts and circumstantial evidence are against him.

  • Klaas

    Azarenka’s grunting si continuous and therefore not all that distracting for an opponent. The Williams sisters (especially Serena), grunt louder on bigger points in order to distract/intimidate their opponents. How is that not gamemanship?

    You make a valid point about grunting and then undo it with this partial rubbish.

  • sissi

    look at that idiot and hypocrite klaas saying that Azarenka has not a big grunt, she and sharapova are the worst by far

  • BDM

    I completely agree with Greg. As a liife long observer and sometime player of tennis I think the so-called “grunts” ie outrageous frank screams of Vika and Maria are utterly ridiculous and frankly demeaning to the womens’ game of tennis (and I am a woman). While some sports (weighlifting for ex) generate grunting from the sheer physiology of the effort, tennis has lost much of the enjoyment of “classy tennis” when those two among others are playing. It’s true that the game has changed, is far more exertional and physical, but it’s sufficient to watch Federer, Simon, Sampras, Stosur (who has a huge effort), even Schiavone who puts literally everything into her game, play to realize that the whole gig is a complete fake …not even intimidating…just plain stupid. As a woman I am embarrassed and as a viewer totally put off by their outright shrieking. I had to watch the Miami final with the sound off as I did for all of Maria’s matches (the few I could stomach given the poor quality of play of the past few years). And to think they complained about the vuvuzelas during last year’s World Cup !!!

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