x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Tennis fans to grunt and bear it

Despite all the derision, the increased levels of decibels continue among youngsters and Ahmed Rizvi sees no solution in sight.

A 'grunting' match between Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams reduced the helpless fans to laughter.
A 'grunting' match between Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams reduced the helpless fans to laughter.

Martina Navratilova, an 18-time grand slam champion, has described it as "cheating, pure and simple".

"Just play it back to the women," said Michael Stich, a former Wimbledon champion. "It sounds disgusting, ugly, unsexy!"

"It's unattractive; it's distracting," said Sue Barker, a former French Open champion. "I would like to see it done away with."

Grunting in women's tennis has been creating a din since Monica Seles brought it into vogue in the early 1990s.

The top women's tennis players of today are all grunters — Maria Sharapova, the Williams sisters, Victoria Azarenka or the infamous Michelle Larcher de Brito, who is believed to be the loudest and unapologetic about it.

The youngsters seem to be following that trend - a nine-year-old girl in Australia was banned from playing tennis by her local club because she grunts too loudly. Apparently, other players complained about her.

Players on the WTA Tour have often complained against the grunters as well.

Steffi Graf did so against Seles at the 1992 Wimbledon final, while Jennifer Capriati was forced to scream "shut up" across the net.

Venus Williams and Sharapova, who recorded 105 decibels in 2009, reduced the fans to laughter during an extended rally with their noise, while one opponent kept screaming "louder" at Sharapova during another match.

Why do the women keep grunting then despite all the derision? A study has shown that the loud grunts of some tennis players can give them a real advantage over opponents, making their responses both slower and less accurate.

Those findings confirmed Ivan Lendl's claims against Andre Agassi's grunting at the 1988 US Open.

"The noise threw my mental game," Lendl said. "When Agassi went for a big shot, his grunt was much louder. It threw off my timing."

Azarenka, who reached the Wimbledon semi-finals earlier this year, wailed for a second and a half at 95 decibels during one of her matches at the All England Club and is unapologetic about her grunting.

"I can't change it, it's part of my breathing system and it's just natural and something I've done since I was a kid," she said. "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."

Almost all the other grunters have said the same thing, so what are the authorities going to do? If it something that has helped raised the level of the game, the fans will just have to bear the grunts.

arizvi@thenational.ae


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