Tennis 'grunt-o-meters' aim to cut shrieks
WTA plans to introduce noise-measuring devices to penalize 'scream queens'
Anti-grunting measures on the tennis court could soon be served up for young players, in a bid by the Women's Tennis Association to shush next-generation talent before they pick up the distracting habit.
The WTA is reviving talk of equipping officials with a "grunt-o-meter," a hand-held instrument that would allow umpires to dock female players who shriek too loudly during play.
Grunting during women's tennis matches was mostly unheard of until former world No. 1 player Monica Seles broke onto the tournament scene in the mid-1990s and made it popular. Since then, there has been a dramatic rise in on-court grunting.
Seles's opponents complained about her piercing cries and British tabloids joined the chorus of condemnation.
Seles defended her habit, saying it had become part of her game.
"It's just the style that I play. I go for every shot and I give everything into a shot," said Seles, who was born in Yugoslavia and is now living in the U.S.
The association plans to teach junior players in the academies and national development programs not to imitate offending tennis idols such as Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova — whose loud wails while swatting balls with their rackets have become so notorious that they've been dubbed tennis "scream queens."
In 2009, for instance, Sharapova's grunt was recorded at 105 decibels — equivalent to standing less than a metre away from a buzzing chainsaw.
Part of the WTA's crackdown on noise could include installing sound monitors on courts to identify to what degree a grunt should be toned down, and to allow umps to enforce current rules when appropriate.
The long-term effort is focusing on up-and-coming players, as WTA officials have conceded it may be unfair to ask mature players to change their habits now.
Sharapova has claimed she's too old to suddenly alter her breathing technique during play, though she added that penalizing over-the-top shriekers on the court is a "smart idea."
Some players have complained the grunting is unsportsmanlike.
Retired pro Martina Navratilova, who supports the grunting ban and attended this week's Rogers Cup women's tournament in Montreal, has suggested the noise could be a form of cheating.
Navratilova said she would often analyze the sound of the ball coming off her opponent's racket to prepare for a particular shot, but that the screeching covered that sound.
Excessive grunting could amount to foul play
Caroline Wozniacki, another former No. 1 player, also questioned whether some of her rivals were grunting excessively on purpose so opponents won't be able to hear how the ball was struck and anticipate its approaching speed.
Those who support grunting in the women's game have also claimed a sexist double standard, noting there is not currently any similar movement in men's tennis to muzzle male players.
"No. 1 Novak Djokovic often croaks like a bullfrog and Rafael Nadal sounds on occasion like he's gargling," The Associated Press wrote in an editorial.
Debate among coaches is divided. Some teach the grunt, while others don't.
As for fan reaction, spectators have also complained that the grunts are off-putting. But British player Heather Watson claimed that spectators actually enjoyed hearing the shrieks because they add to the tournament experience.
The grunt-o-meters are expected to be introduced in the coming years.