x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Advantage, tennis's grunters

The anti-grunting brigade in women's tennis are likely to be demanding the scream queens be gagged after a study revealed their screeches give them an unfair advantage.

Maria Sharapova’s screeches have measured a high of 103.7 decibels.
Maria Sharapova’s screeches have measured a high of 103.7 decibels.

The anti-grunting brigade in women's tennis are likely to be demanding the scream queens be gagged after a study revealed their screeches give them an unfair advantage. 

The study by university researchers found "clear-cut" evidence that shriekers cause their opponents to react more slowly and make more decision errors. This will be music to the ears to those who have long protested over the on-court cacophony coughed up by some players.

Martina Navratilova described grunting as "cheating", while Michael Stich, a former Wimbledon champion, found it "disgusting, ugly, unsexy". Nick Bollettieri, the renowned coach, suggested penalties for players who go "beyond acceptable natural levels" with their screeching. Navratilova has always believed the screamers gain an unfair advantage and she even complained against Monica Seles, whose yelps at the 1992 Wimbledon semi-finals led to British newspapers measuring of decibel level of the noises she produced.

Chris Evert agreed with Navratilova, her great rival, saying: "Grunting is one thing, but the sound that you hear with players nowadays and especially [when] they get louder when they hit a winner, that's the thing I observe as a player. "It comes before they hit the shot. That's the first thing you hear and you are thrown off guard as a player and then before you know the ball gets past you." University researchers studied the impact of grunting and the findings, were released online.

According to the study by Scott Sinnett, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Hawaii, and Alan Kingstone, a psychology professor at Canada's University of British Columbia, "the main finding is clear-cut". "When an additional sound occurs at the same time as when the ball is struck, participants are significantly slower (21-33 miliseconds) and make significantly more decision errors (three to four per cent)," said their report.

As part of the study, 33 undergraduate students from the University of British Columbia viewed videos of a tennis player hitting a ball to either side of a tennis court. Some shots contained a brief sound that occurred at the same time as contact. The study group members had to respond as quickly as possible, indicating [on a keyboard] whether the ball was being hit to the left or right side of the court.

"The results were unequivocal," said the study. "The presence of an extraneous sound interfered with a participant's performance." While these findings are likely to lead to new calls to put a stop to this "unfair practice", the shriekers are unlikely to relent. Michelle Larcher de Brito, who brought the matter to a head at the French Open last year, said: "Nobody can tell me to stop grunting. If they have to fine me, go ahead."

The promising 17-year-old Portuguese's screeches have been measured at 109 decibels. Among the other grunters, Maria Sharapova is consistently over 100, with a high of 103.7 decibels; Seles has reached 93.2, while Serena Williams has been clocked at 88.9. These players have been among the cream of women's tennis and silencing them could be a long-drawn-out process.

 arizvi@thenational.ae