Just three months ago at Wimbledon, Ian Ritchie, chief executive of the All England Lawn and Tennis Club, fanned the flames with his assertion that women emitting anything louder than a breathy, Marilyn Monroe-esque “Match point!” is annoying for opponents and fans. Ritchie was no doubt referring to famed grunters like Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, whose yelps have been measured at 95 decibels, or Maria Sharapova, who hit 105 on the sound monitor in 2009 – on par with a police siren or roaring lion. (Hear Sharapova here.) Venus Williams has caught flak for rumblings, as has Monica Seles, widely regarded as the original female grunter.
Question: How, exactly, does one send a tennis ball rocketing through the air at a speed of 121mph without grunting?
Whether you play tennis, lift weights, run track, throw discus, pole-vault, or kick ass in martial arts, chances are you’ve made noise while doing so. The air has to be released from your lungs somehow, and when you’re recruiting every muscle in your body, calling on every little fast-twitch fiber, chances are it’s not going to be a quiet process. It’s not like Sharapova is barking on purpose – it’s an instinct, a natural process. And it clearly serves a purpose: Seles attempted to silence herself in her 1992 final with Stefi Graf under threat of a fine…and was trounced. She lost her power when she lost her voice – and a 2010 study co-authored by University of British Columbia and University of Hawaii suggests she might have given Graf an advantage: Grunting affects shot perception, throwing one’s opponent off track.
To the members of the Groan Patrol, I say this: It doesn’t matter if a player’s grunting annoys you. To be totally honest, it kind of annoys me, too. So what? A lot of things about men’s sports annoy me. Like the Packers’ Clay Matthews – I hate how his long hair sticks out from under his helmet, all sweaty and matted against his neck. It makes me think of rubbing Vaseline all over myself and then slipping on a fleece bathrobe. Ick. Oh, and those ridiculous first down marker that football refs use to measure yardage – they seem like inept little Keystone Cops, running around with these oversized orange sticks. Hello? We have modern technology, like lasers, that could verify a first down in milliseconds.
For those truly sensitive-eared folks, the BBC has a free app – Wimbledon NetMix – which allows viewers to tune down grunting while turning up the volume of the commentators. For the rest of the complainers, I have two words for you: Hit mute. On your TVs and on yourselves.