UMMMPF! A Detailed Analysis Of The Loudest Grunters In Women’s Tennis
After 125 years of keeping mum on the subject and not acknowledging the elephant in the room ('tis the British way, after all), Wimbledon's powers that be are finally speaking out about a problem that has plagued mankind for decades: women who are just too damn loud — on the tennis court, that is.
According to Ian Ritchie, the chief executive of the All England Lawn and Tennis Club, grunting tennis players* are spoiling the game with their excessive aural outbursts.
(*Aside: there is indeed a Wikipedia page devoted specifically to "tennis grunting.")
He attributes the nuisance in part to younger players, whom he claims suffer from an "education problem" about the issue.
What, they don't teach grunting protocol at all those fancy tennis academies down in South Florida?
Apparently not. Per tennis coach extraordinaire Nick Bollettieri:
“My staff and I have never taught grunting. We have always taught the proper way to breathe in and out. Players grunt because it helps them release energy and keep focused. It is something that they do naturally. It isn’t something that is done deliberately to hurt their opponents.”
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova believes otherwise, referring to the practice as "cheating, pure and simple."
Navratilova says grunting disguises the sound of the ball hitting the racquet, which she claims an opponent needs to hear to quickly gauge the power, spin and depth of an incoming shot.
Ritchie isn't the first person to publicly condemn the custom, but the head of Wimbledon is certainly the most influential tennis higher-up we've heard give his opinion on the matter.
Female tennis grunting is an interesting phenomenon. There's the cool aspect of it, which is that it perfectly captures that primal moment when a female athlete is at once aggressive and in control. But there's also the annoying part of it, which is that after four or five volleys, the loud shrieking coming from your TV can get kind of grating.
Is it a detriment to the game, like Wimbledon's head honchos are portraying it? Is it something that beautifully encapsulates the spirit of competition? Is it somewhere in between? We decided to take a closer look at some of the best grunters the sport has to offer to get a better idea.
But first ... some basis for comparison:
Lion's roar: 110 decibels.
Sharapova currently owns the loudest grunt on record at 105 decibels, which was measured in 2009. Though it's worth mentioning, hers isn't so much a grunt, as it is a primal scream. You'll notice in the clip that some of her shrieks go up a note at the end, almost as if to add a point of emphasis. Not that it needs much more emphasis.
Michelle Larcher de Brito
As someone who once owned a Siamese cat, I can honestly say Larcher de Brito's yowls are oddly reminiscent of the sounds my cat would make whenever she was locked in a closet. Seriously, those animals are loud. The Portuguese teenager's noise violations have reportedly been measured at 109 decibels, but without official confirmation we can't in good faith rank her above Sharapova. Health experts maintain that it is unsafe to be exposed to 110 decibels in excess of 30 minutes, which would mean that attending one of Larcher de Brito's matches should carry a health warning.
Fourth-seeded, 21-year-old Azarenka of Belarus is already making noise at this year's Wimbledon — just not the kind anyone wants to listen to. According to The Daily Telegraph, noise machines recorded her "sounds" at 95 decibels. What distinguishes Azarenka's grunts from those of other women on the tour is that they are as prolonged as they are loud — clocking it at over 1.5 seconds each time she strikes the ball. As she explains:
“I have been doing it since I was 10 years old. I wasn’t really strong and that was what helped me to accelerate more, to put more power to the ball. I cannot change it, that’s what helps me to play. I have to keep going with the thing that helps me play.”
So you see, excessive exhalation helps the girl play, damnit! Who are we to judge? Be sure to watch the video above to see Azarenka and Sharapova duke it out for vocal supremacy.
Speaking of Seles, she was perhaps the originator of the "gruntometer" — registering just over 93 decibels. Hers certainly had a ... unique ... style about it — distinctively two-tone, almost what you imagine vomiting with an accent sounds like. As it turns out, Seles' grunting (or lack thereof) might have actually cost her the 1992 Wimbledon final. After taking a beating in the press for her sound effects, Seles clammed up and was defeated by Steffi Graf in straight sets, 6-2, 6-1.
Listening to the elder Williams sister's screaming (meter reading: 85 decibels) is like living in an apartment with paper-thin walls and listening to the young couple next door go at it. You don't know whether to dial 911, or just feel incredibly jealous and sorry for yourself.
Final Verdict: Yes, women's tennis grunting is kind of annoying.
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