I will NEVER watch Azerenka play, either on live or on TV, never in a million years. I value my hearing way too much to put it in jeopardy. I had the misfortune to watch her practice for 30 seconds in Rome and even though I had Rafa in front of me I left. She is awful!
Cheeky spectators in Australia and England have mimicked Victoria Azarenka’s loon-like wail at past tournaments. The crowd at the Sony Ericsson Open politely refrained Wednesday night when the world’s No. 1 player drowned out Marion Bartoli with her aural assault.
But a deafening women’s final was averted with the 6-3, 6-3 upset of Azarenka by Bartoli, who hardly makes a peep when she plays.
It was a victory for the soft-spoken.
The outcry against excessive grunting in tennis is growing louder than the grunts.
In the case of “Vika the Shrieka” Azarenka and semifinalist Maria Sharapova, the screams go far beyond the natural expulsion of air when striking the ball. You would think you were in a barnyard, a hospital delivery room or an X-rated movie.
The volume and length of the sounds detracts from the game. Fans shouldn’t have to plug their ears or mute their TV to enjoy a match. Nor should quiet opponents such as Bartoli have to listen to noise pollution.
Players who grunt insist it is involuntary, an organic habit developed during youth to improve power, concentration and rhythm.
At the Doha tournament last month, Azarenka confronted the issue again by asking a reporter, “Do you snore?”
“I do, actually,” he replied.
“Can you control that?” she said.
“Well, there are ways, I guess,” he said.
“There are ways, but you still snore, right?” she said.
“Yeah,” he said.
“So it’s natural to you, right? So it’s natural to me, too.”
Since when is screeching on every single shot at the same decibel level of a subway train or jackhammer natural? Players could file an OSHA complaint on hearing damage by exposure exceeding the advised two-hour limit. Wimbledon officials were aghast when The Daily Mail measured Sharapova at 103 decibels on the Grunt-O-Meter.
Aside from the annoyance factor, the grunters gain a tactical advantage. Studies have shown that reaction time and the perception of a shot’s direction are hampered by noise. Opponents can’t hear the sound of the ball coming off the racket.
Jelena Jankovic complained, noting that players can disguise the velocity of their shots with exaggerated grunts.
Caroline Wozniacki complained, pointing out that grunters don’t do it during practice.
Agnieszka Radwanska complained at the Australian Open, saying the grunting had gotten out of control.
“Isn’t she back in Poland now?” Sharapova snapped.
Martina Navratilova equates grunting with cheating.
Nick Bollettieri often gets blamed for the trend because his pupil Monica Seles (nicknamed Moan-ica) was the first notable female squealer. Then came protégé Sharapova, another loudmouth on court. But Bollettieri said he never advocated grunting, only tension-release breathing recommended by sports doctors at his academy.
“A group of ladies from Canada called me and said they wanted to come down and learn how to grunt so they could improve their game, but I never taught that,” he said. “A lot of youngsters have copied the pros. We let it go too long.”
Men grunt, too, but at a lower pitch. The women sound shrill.
“Some of the girls with that high ‘EYE-EEEEE’ — it travels more,” Bollettieri said.
It’s past time to silence excessive noise. The WTA has started a dialogue with coaches and academies to discourage the development of grunting in young players. Bollettieri met with WTA CEO Stacey Allaster and sent a memo to his students on “Top Tips for Optimal Breathing,” which emphasizes that “the goal is not to beat your opponent with an unfair or unethical tactic.”
The WTA recognizes that fans find grunting to be a turnoff. The ATP hasn’t heard much criticism of the men.
“It’s got to be stamped out,” said John Lloyd, a BBC commentator and former pro. “Tell coaches we’re going to start docking points. You don’t need to make those noises to hit the ball. You’re not born that way. You don’t suddenly hit your first tennis ball and you’re grunting. They’re taught that they need to breathe to hit, which is a load of nonsense or everybody would do it. It’s an embarrassment.”
Some say it’s too late to penalize grunters with an engrained habit. But habits can be broken. The NFL has changed its rules dramatically through the years to protect quarterbacks and receivers. Figure skating revamped its scoring system in the wake of a judging scandal.
Institute a six-month grace period. After that, if a player complains to the chair umpire about an opponent, issue a warning followed by a point penalty.
Tennis has the hindrance rule. Serena Williams got angry when she was penalized during her U.S. Open final loss to Sam Stosur because she cried “Come on!” on a shot.
If yelling “Come on!” or “Miss it!” is a hindrance then so is hooting “OWW-WAAY!” or “EWW-WOO!”