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.