Grunting, or shrieking, is back in the news again because it’s Wimbledon time and Maria Sharapova is dominating again. Sharapova, if you didn’t know, regularly shrieks when she hits the ball, often at a noise level above 100 decibels. That’s pretty freaking loud, in case you aren’t sure. Okay, so it’s less of a shriek and more of a HOOOOOOOOOOOO when she hits the ball, but still.
Most people involved with the sport in one way or another have weighed in on the issue. Responses have ranged from the “what can you do?” area to banning all grunting at any level of noise. The majority seem to lean toward the “what can you do?” side. For example, this piece over on ESPN stating that players have been grunting and shrieking since time immemorial. The WTA has decided recently to work with youth players to eliminate shrieking at that level so it doesn’t exist when the young’uns turn pro. The WTA belive it is “unfair” to force current pros to change their habits for whatever reason.
My proposal is this: if players like Sharapova and others insist on shrieking at that level, allow the fans to make noise too.
It’s absurd for any player to say that shrieking or grunting that loudly does not give them an advantage. Many players have correctly pointed out that players like Sharapova and the Williams sisters only shriek when they play matches but not when they practice. That, of course, makes it obvious enough that they’re doing it for reasons other than just trying to hit the ball hard or something. And, as some one who played competitve tennis for nearly the entirety of his first 19 years, I can say that grunting like Sharapova does is totally unrelated to hitting a tennis ball.
It’s clearly about domination, about sending a message to their opponents on the same level as NBA players yelling when they dunk or block a shot. It’s alpha-dog stuff and gamesmanship. Nothing more. Note how players who play other sports needing similar exertion make no such noise. No softball players screams when she hits the ball as hard as she can. No runner or cyclist shrieks when she tries to finish strong. No sprinter yells mid-race.
No golfer, female or male, makes any kind of noise when they’re trying to hit the ball, even in match play. This is because, much like tennis, it would be a breach of decorum that the sport would not tolerate.
Furthermore, it’s ridiculous that the fans must be absolutely silent while play is going on, but the players may shriek and grunt at any level of noise they please. Ridiculous. That is the kind of country-club hypocrisy that drives people away in droves from competitive tennis. Fans have been complaining about the noise more and more in recent years. The ESPN article linked above even goes so far to say that once the shrieking starts to affect the WTA’s pocket book, then they’ll do something.
But why wait for the consequences to occur before action is taken? Fans are already complaining loudly and, I might add, correctly, that the embience of the matches is utterly ruined by the noise from the players.
So let the fans in the stands make as much noise as they’d like. Give it a baseball-stadium feel. And by the way, pitching a baseball takes at least as much concentration as playing tennis, and those guys seem to manage fine.
If there is a healthy level of crowd noise already, then screamers like Sharapova, the Williams sisters, and Victoria Azarenka won’t get the advantage screaming gets them. And clearly, complaining to the officials mid-match is not a helpful recourse for players bothered by the shrieking. It’s also ludicrous to think players can somehow control a certain level of decibels when they’re letting loose, as it were, on the court.
So just let there be noise in tennis stadia all over the world. The gentile days of men in vests and long pants and women in skirts past the knees are long gone. These people are world-class athletes who play a sport professionally. They can handle a little (or a lot of) noise.