Tennis Background Noise Coming to Forefront
Published: Monday, January 14, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 17:01
Get out your earplugs and prepare to press the mute button: The Australian Open is here.
Four times a year, people across the world are captivated by the drama of the Grand Slam tournaments that play out on the tennis courts in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York City. The anticipation and prestige of these events are unrivaled, and the competition is always at its highest level.
Unfortunately, another thing that is always at its highest level is the screeching of a few female tennis players.
World No. 2 and infamous grunter Maria Sharapova won her opening match Monday against fellow Russian Olga Puchkova 6-0, 6-0. Though the match only lasted a merciful 55 minutes, Sharapova made her presence known not only with her aggressive play but also through her typical noisy grunts.
While superstars like Sharapova and world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka have received the brunt of the criticism in recent years, the decibel problem is far more widespread and dates back to the 1960s, when players complained about the volume of American tennis star Victoria Palmer. Through the years, players like Monica Seles, Anna Kournikova, and Venus and Serena Williams have all been criticized for their unnecessarily loud grunting, but no action has been taken to fix the issue. And though the problem is not new, it is worsening, with fans — as well as players — now grumbling about the earsplitting shrieks echoing from the courts.
Because tennis is a game of tradition and etiquette, officials have been slow to reprimand even the most egregious offenders. Chair umpires can award a point if a player gives a celebratory yell before their opponent has had a chance to make a play on the ball (as was the case in Serena William’s loss to Samantha Stosur in the 2011 U.S. Open final). However, there are no sweeping rules that ban or even limit the amount or volume of grunting allowed in a match.
Though top players such as Agnieszka Radwanksa, Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic have publicly spoken out against the epidemic, it appears that the complaints from fans finally motivated the Women’s Tennis Association to address the decades-old issue.
Regrettably, officials are still not doing enough. The plan that the WTA put forth calls on youth coaches to teach their pupils correct breathing techniques so as to eliminate grunting from the next generation of tennis stars. While it is laudable that steps are finally being taken to ensure that all players can compete in a fair atmosphere and that all fans can enjoy the matches, the WTA need not wait another 10 years for this protocol to take effect.
Tennis players, more so than most other athletes, are attuned to every minute motion and muscle. They know how to angle their racquet ever so slightly to produce the perfect drop shot. They spend years perfecting their service motion, only to spend more years making adjustments to it. They hit hundreds of balls a day until they can hit a flawless forehand with their eyes closed. Tennis players have such finely tuned control over their bodies that I find it impossible to believe they cannot adjust their breathing to avoid letting out an almighty screech every time they make contact with the ball.
The popularity of women’s tennis has grown steadily for decades, but the grunting problem has unfortunately begun to distract from the skill of the players. If the sport is losing viewers due to fans’ aversion to the common occurrences of on-court yelling, that’s a problem that needs to be solved now.
Tennis is one of the few sports in which male and female athletes receive equal pay — Wimbledon began awarding equal prize money in 2007 — and so the expectations of the game should be the same as well. Should male players take up the habit of shrieking during every point, you can be sure the Association for Tennis Professionals (the male tennis governing body) would do something about it immediately. To be fair, some male tennis players have also been known to exhale audibly, but the volume and frequency of the grunts are much lower and therefore less distracting.
I would like to watch a major tournament without hearing commentators mentioning how the players sound. I would like to see coverage of the tournaments without a single video montage of women yelling as they power the ball across the court. For as long as I can remember, the issue of grunting has clung stubbornly to women’s tennis. It’s time for that to change.
Maybe then we can get back to focusing solely on the game.
Laura Wagner is a sophomore in the College. GAME OF CHANGE appears every Tuesday.