First and foremost, grunting in women’s tennis is not a new phenomenon. Monica Seles was one of the first players to have been singled out for her on-court decibels after the UK press infamously installed a “grunt-o-meter” on Centre Court at Wimbledon to measure her shrieks.
Jimmy Connors was not known for being particularly quiet on court and Maria Sharapova is a more recent star who has reignited the debate over whether something should be done by one of Tennis’ governing bodies to discourage the distracting habit.
But even more recently, Michelle Larcher de Brito – the 16-year-old Portuguese rising star – caused a stir around the courts following her extreme grunting. (See video above)
When quizzed about it off the court, Sharapova sustains that she can’t control it, whereas Larcher de Brito simply calls it ‘part of the game’.
It is a difficult problem to try and solve.
It would be an exaggeration to call grunting ‘cheating’, but there is no doubt that it can affect opponents by giving them another aspect of the game to cope with.
And despite Sharapova and Larcher de Brito claiming that they both have no control over their screeches, for those watching their matches, the variations in volume are obvious, with the big points often generating the louder grunts.
So can something be done to discourage players from doing it?
Bill Babcock, the Grand Slam director at the International Tennis Federation thinks that it is time individual cases such as Larcher de Brito’s were looked at, but also says that grunting could be integral to certain players’ games.
“It may be that their perception is that if they grunt, they are hitting it harder. It’s going to give you confidence and a sense of being in control of your game,” he said.
“What has drawn attention to Larcher de Brito, and a call for a review of the style of play, though is not only the volume of her shrieks, but also their persistence.”
“This is the main issue in her case and makes her different from those who have made noise before.”
Whilst the ITF have acknowledged the problem, it remains unlikely that there will be any rulings against it apart from a gentle reminder from time to time.
So until that changes, fans beware! If you are attending a WTA match anytime soon, TSR recommends earmuffs as essential wear.
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