Grunting in Women’s Tennis
The phenomenon of grunting isn’t specific just to women’s tennis. For example, Jimmy Connors is credited as one of the first male grunters, and Nadal is still quite the grunter. However, it does seem to be especially common among women players. Monica Seles was probably one of the earliest top players to become famous for grunting – and as the trend has continued, the decibels of the grunts have increased.
Former tennis star Martina Navratilova has labeled grunting as a form of cheating, saying that it has reached an unacceptable level.
Beyond the mere unpleasant sound, she pointed out that a loud grunt can mask the sound of the ball leaving the grunter’s racket, which renders an experienced opponent unable to judge the force and spin of a shot.
However true that may be, it doesn’t take upwards of 100 decibels to mask a shot, and the grunts we hear in tennis today are commonly reaching these outrageous levels.
Michelle Larcher de Brito
The loudest around today is undoubtedly Michelle Larcher de Brito, whose grunt clocks in at an unbelievable reading of 109 decibels.
Of her shriek, she says that “if people don’t like it, they can leave”. An opponent has made complaints against her in-game; in a 2009 French Open match, Aravane Rezai complained to the umpire that her shrieks were disruptive and unnecessary. Although no action was taken against her, she was booed off the court that day.
Maria Sharapova is another culprit when it comes to excessively loud grunting.
Her frenzied shrieks measure in at 101 decibels, the equivalent of some police sirens. Sharapova has also had complaints laid against her, including a complaint from three-time Wimbledon champ Chris Evert. Of these, she says people should “just watch the match” and that we should forget about the shrieking, which she claims to have done since she started playing the sport at age 4.
Monica Seles may not have had the decibel rating of de Brito or Sharapova or de Brito, with grunts measuring in at “only” 93.2 decibels, but her double-barreled moan and grunt was definitely enough to put opponents off.
She was actually threatened with a fine for this type of behaviour prior to her final match against Stefi Graf in 1992. For this game, Seles put the proverbial sock in it, and promptly lost the match. Perhaps players take this as a sign that they shouldn’t hold back their yelps.
Victoria Azarenka manages considerable grunts, clocking in at 83.5 decibels. She defends the grunting outright, saying that opponents and the audience alike should respect the fact that about 70% of all women playing professional tennis have a tendency to grunt. Her grunt has been defined as “terrifying” and “alarming”, and it prompted crowds at Wimbledon to mock her “woo-woo” wails.
We can’t talk about shrieking tennis players without mentioning the great Anna Kournikova. Known as much for her body as she is for how she uses it in tennis, she was also a capable grunter. Here she is getting out-grunted by Seles, whose double-barreled grunt is as noticeable as ever.
Anna’s grunts, however, were known to be a little more genuine, in that they would occur only when she was physically exerting herself to an extreme level for a shot.