Female tennis stars are continuously finding themselves under attack for their loud vocal expulsions when striking the ball during a match, an action that has frustrated many involved in the game.
Although grunting exists in both ATP and WTA tournaments, the women are perceived to be the biggest offenders, with American sisters Venus and Serena Williams, Russian sensation Maria Sharapova and Belarusian talent Victoria Azarenka experiencing criticism for their on-court vocal antics.
The days of screeching date back to the legendary Monica Seles’ time on the court; the Serb had been thought of as “the grunt creator” having introduced the grunt on the main stage with a series of skillful and loud performances.
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Both fans and players, past and current, have bemoaned on-court grunting, with numerous fans claiming to be irritated by the screams, and other tennis stars, who do not believe in grunting, labeling it as cheating.
In 2011, former world number one Caroline Wozniacki claimed grunting gives players an advantage over their opposition: “If you grunt really loudly your opponent cannot hear how you hit the ball,” said the two-time US Open finalist.
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“Because the grunt is so loud, you think the ball is coming fast and suddenly the ball just goes slowly”.
The Dane is not the only star to be frustrated by the shrieking, as Polish sensation Agnieszka Radwanska voiced her concerns in 2012 after playing Maria Sharapova, who is notorious for her screams which Radwanska described as “just too loud” and “pretty annoying”.
Czech legend Martina Navratilova also shares Radwanska’s frustrations, once claiming that “the grunting has reached an unacceptable level”, and classifying it as “cheating pure and simple”.
Grunters defend themselves
However, some of today’s screaming tennis sensations have defended themselves against cheating allegations, insisting that grunting is just part of how they were taught to play.
When questioned upon their screeching, Azarenka, 25, and Sharapova, 28, gave similar responses: “It’s the way I am, the way I play, the way I used to play when I was a kid”, claimed two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka.
“I’ve been the same throughout my career and no one important enough has told me to change or do something different”, said current world number four Maria Sharapova.
Whilst many irritated fans struggle to justify the need for their screams, it has been contested that there are physical benefits to be gained by grunting, such as increased power in their strokes aided by the retention of air in their lungs following inhalation.
This improves core strength and balance according to Professor Alison McConnell of Brunel University, who explained that “air in the lungs helps to provide the stability required for injury-free and forceful movements of the trunk”.
Although I have empathy for the players that struggle to concentrate amidst a barrage of screeching from players like Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, as well as the fans that may go home in need of an aspirin following an encounter between the pair, I also feel it is unfair to label them as cheaters given the aforementioned physical benefits.
They have sufficient medical evidence to believe that grunting is beneficial to their game, and therefore their tactic is simply to improve their strength by inhaling and exhaling a certain way in accordance with medical advice, not to deliberately distract or sabotage their opponent’s performance.
As they were both taught to grunt from a young age, it has most likely become embedded into their game, so much so that they may find themselves screeching subconsciously, which is why I also feel it may be unfair to accuse them of doing it with malicious intentions for their rival.
Whilst certain fans may find the screeching insufferable I, as a keen tennis fan, believe it creates a more competitive and encapsulating atmosphere on the court, adding an element of entertainment and excitement into the match; I view it as an expression of raw passion, determination, and exuberance, all of which are key factors required by athletes in order to compete at the highest level.