Shrieking In Tennis Is Out Of Control, So What Should Be Done?

July 1, 2012 – 8:35 pm by McD

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.

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  1. 15 Responses to “Shrieking In Tennis Is Out Of Control, So What Should Be Done?”

  2. there is no name attatched to this article and obviously the writer has never played competitive tennis, pls research you article facts ,the grunts the noises that you refee to are annoying but in competitive tennis it is a release from the diaphram , I would be suprised if there where any non grunters , if the continuously rude fans in hte stand feel like grunting from the extra preasure that beer has on their guts then , well they always seem to let a few out , especially in new york

    By beller on Jul 2, 2012

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with the author’s contention that shrieking and other noises generated by tennis players is totally unnecessary and irrelevant to their ability to strike the ball. To give one notorious case in point I’d like to reference Spain’s Rafael Nadal. Ever since he first rose to prominence I’ve said that this guy (like Andre Agassi used to do in HIS prime)screams mainly for effect–and not out of necessity. I say that because if you notice, Nadal only makes noise when he’s in control of a rally. But if his opponent is bossing him around (as was the case only a few days ago when he was repeatedly bullied and getting his ass kicked by Lukas Rosol’s thunderous ground strokes off both wings) the Spaniard was uncharacteristically silent.

    Ivan Lendl used to make the same point about Andre Agassi and the primal screams HE used to unleash whenever HE found himself in control of a point. But the war hoops mysteriously vanished when Agassi was playing a young Roger Federer who had a way of neutralizing Andre’s magnificent ground strokes–and with it the ear-splitting screams that usually accompanied them…

    Coincidence or connection?

    Santa Monica, California

    By Clifford on Jul 2, 2012

  4. The shrieking is totally unecessary, and uncalled for and absolutely annoying. Who wants to pay to come and hear loud caterwalling, not I and from what I hear many people. I even turn off the sound on the TV when Sharapova is playing, she is the worst offender and is ridiculous.

    By mary on Jul 2, 2012

  5. Rod Laver is the only one, man or woman, to win 2 Grandslams. Rod never screamed or took any kind of advantage of his opponents. Martina Navratilova is one of the greatest womens tennis players of all time as is her rival Chris Evert. They pretty much helped build the women’s game and popularity without screeching like a mashed cat. We need to return to the elegance that was once the game of tennis. There is a “hinderence” rule that could be used to stop this foolishness tomorrow. First a warning, then a point, then a game, then the match. You would see screeching stop overnight. Either that or legitimate players would be the only ones left. If you like the screeching, go watch baseball, basketball, or football and leave the beautiful game of tennis alone. We need to return to the wonderful game of lawn tennis like it was meant to be enjoyed.

    By Russ on Jul 2, 2012

  6. It is quite correct that the venerable players of the past did not grunt. I am a huge fan of these players. But, at that time, no one was aware of the possible benefits of a Kiai, which only became evident with the increase in popularity of martial arts in the West.
    The USTA already has rules that can be applied to this, but they are simply not enforced. They fall under the Code for Hinderance: #37 Grunting. A player should avoid grunting and making other loud noises.
    Grunting and other loud noises may bother not only opponents but also players on
    adjacent courts. In an extreme case, an opponent or a player on an adjacent court
    may seek the assistance of an official. Grunting and the making of loud noises that
    affect the outcome of a point are hindrances. Only an official may rule that these
    actions are hindrances and order that a let be played or a loss of point, depending
    on whether an official had previously warned the offending player.
    The question of fans being aloud to shout: “Just look at Baseball” is completely rediculous. You will notice that there are no noises made by the fans in Golf (The only sport that might be deemed comparable to tennis in its ethics codes), yet the author never addresses this. I find it interesting that it is against golf behavior codes for a player to grunt. Why is that? No one else is trying to hit the ball at the tee? It couldn’t possibly be a distraction for the opponents in their group. The argument made in tennis is that a player only grunts when he/she themselves hit the ball, not when their opponent is hitting the ball, and it is, therefore, not a distraction. I, currently, would rule it a distraction/hinderence, if either, there were players on other courts complaining or the grunt is drawn out to the point that their shot has now cleared the net and the grunt is still audible. The, currently accepted practice within the Umpires Association is to warn the player on the first infraction, play a let on the second, and then take a point on the third and for every occurance thereafter.
    Should the USTA and ITF choose to change this sequence, or their definitions, then we would be forced to accept them.
    At the fan level, there seems to be no problem for organizers to sell tickets to Grand Slam Events. If the fans do not like the noise made by the players, they do not seem to be willing to express this by refusing to attend. As an umpire and former division one player, I find the Kiai rediculous in our sport, but not everyone agrees. Children grow up watching their heros do this and decide it will help their game to emulate them. And, some coaches DO teach it.

    By John on Jul 2, 2012

  7. What should be done? 50 years of tennis tells me: Warning, penalty point. Warning, penalty point. Game. Warning, penalty point. Then set!!! Nothing but BS. All of this grunting, screeching is unnecessary period! Eliminate it now!!!

    By ray mcclellan on Jul 2, 2012

  8. I could not watch a minute of Victoria Azarenka match. Her opponent Tamira Paszek hit the ball without making any noise. When Azarenka hit a shot, it sounded like large bird being beaten with a stick.

    By Jon on Jul 3, 2012

  9. I’ve played tennis for forty years. The grunting doesn’ bother me one bit. What a bunch of pansy as_es complainers. Tell boxers not to grunt when they put every ounce of effort into a punch. Tell football plyers not to grunt when they put everything they have into a tackle. When Wimbleton muzzled Monica she lost because of it. I like the grunting. When I hear it I know the player is putting every last once of strength they have into their shots. This is not a silent movie sport.

    By maczmo on Jul 3, 2012

  10. And another thing. Who is the moron who wrote this article, a tennis player?
    This is not the ballet. As the great Pancho Gonzales said,”this is war without guns.” These gals are out there battling for their lives. They’re like gladiators fighting for survival, to kill or be killed. I love the the suspense of the battle. The sounds of the battle just heightens the suspense.
    Writer of this article, go to the ballet or a golf match.

    By maczmo on Jul 3, 2012

  11. MACZMO is probably one of those people who feel compelled to play their car stereo so loud it can be heard 2 blocks away. The shreiking is unnecessary and takes away from the enjoyment of the game. I enjoy tennis not the accompanying noise. I don’t need to hear the players grunt to know that they are playing their hardest. The best ones always do.

    By Dok_G on Jul 4, 2012

  12. I think the loud grunting after each time the ball is struck is purely for try to intimidate the opponent. Grunters and loud shriekers should receive a hefty fine after each excessive grunt….football players are fined for excessive celebration….the excessive noise must be stopped now or the upcoming professional players will continue the practice.

    By Ledora Williams on Jul 4, 2012

  13. Tell the commentators (MacEnroe’s, etc) that as long as there is the unbelievebly loud shrieking that the TV audience will ‘mute’ the sessions.

    I can remember very good players a generation ago – no one shreiked then. It’s clearly done to intimdate the opponent.

    By Samuel Livingston on Jul 5, 2012

  14. A rare exclamation of pain associated with a fall is one thing. Regular(dramatic)noises of any kind, grunts, screams, etc. are a deterrent to the enjoyment of a sporting competition (I did not come to hear a screaming match) as well as a deterrent to the play of the game itself. Even if a player is not conscious of the negative influence a fair scientific test must show that external influences do make a difference. To the contrary, there is no evidence to support the idea that grunting makes a better player. The ruling leaders of tennis should step up an “just do the right thing.”

    By Frank Carlton on Jul 6, 2012

  15. No matter what else is said about grunting, it is a huge distraction from watching tennis on TV. It follows that I would not want to pay out the money for tickets to see professional tennis only to be subjected to the nonsensical shrieks from some players–Azarenka and Sharapova being the worst I have heard. Those two, especially Azarenka put a phony touch to their shrieks by adding a kind of melodious tone.

    By joanne on Sep 7, 2012

  16. I was watching the Womens OPEN final yesterday and actually had to mute the volume because I could not take the bird-like shrieking of Victoria Azarenka. If I were to play an opponent
    that made that sound EVERY time she hit a ball, I’d forfeit. I have no idea how Serena took that sound for hours and won.
    The USTA should seriously consider banning and fining players for UNNECESSARY, DISTRACTING sounds while playing on the court.

    By RON MATTHEWS on Sep 10, 2012

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