Foot Fault!

Calling all the lines of professional tennis

Hello. Oh. Grunting. Bye.

I wanted my comeback post to be about sunshine and butterflies, but instead - sigh - we’re back to that age-old grunting debate. I try to bite my tongue and stay away from the most ridiculous “issue” in tennis, but it just keeps on pullin’ me back in. Today the culprit is, amazingly, the WTA itself. After months and even years of (rightfully) placing fingers in ears and humming the grunting criticism away, the tour has finally caved in and is the advanced stages of bringing in new sanctions which will arm WTA umpires with an official ‘grunt-o-meter’ and the ability to sanction and penalize the noisiest players.

“It’s time for us to drive excessive grunting out of the game for future generations,” WTA chairman and chief executive Stacey Allaster said.

The umbrella scenario, unanimously green-lighted this month at Roland Garros in Paris by representatives of the four majors, the International Tennis Federation and the WTA players’ council, would include:

• The development of a handheld device — a kind of Hawk-Eye for noise — for umpires to objectively measure on-court grunting levels.

• A new rule setting acceptable and non-acceptable noise levels based on acoustical data gathering and analysis.

• Education at large tennis academies, national development programs and at all levels of junior and lower-tier professional events.

Honestly, I don’t blame them. What has, on some level, always been a topic of interest and satire in the (mainly British) media, over the past few years has transformed into an unequivocal PR dis-ah-stuh. Seemingly every day a new article is erected, damning the prominent grunters to eternal hell. Meanwhile, comment sections are filled with truly heartwrenching stories by people “forced” to change the channel and/or put their televisions on mute (whatever happened to just turning the volume down a few bars, eh?) due to those evil, godforsaken grunters. So sad.

Even so, I am and continue to be amazed by this entire situation. Just a few weeks ago, we were watching the mens Roland Garros final as Nadal and Djokovic produced noises similar to that of a male getting continually smashed by a baseball bat, you know, down there… Did anyone speak out against them? Nuh-uh. Just a few days earlier, Andy Murray and David Ferrer were doing exactly the same. Did anyone complain there? Err, no. Thus, should this project go ahead, in a few years we will be watching as female players are restricted and penalized for the noise they make, while some of the most prominent male players continue to soar well over those restrictions without so much as a batted eyelid. To me, that is maybe just a little bit problematic. Just a tiny bit.

Of course, many identify pitch (you know, like, different genetics) as the distinction between male and female grunting. That’s fair enough from a subjective preference, but noise is noise and if Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka are supposedly cheating as has been so vehemently accused, then in reality Rafael Nadal is a cheat, Novak Djokovic is a cheat, Andy Murray is a cheat, David Ferrer is a cheat and so are the hundreds of other ATP players (and, believe me, there are hundreds) who routinely shout their heads off when making contact with the ball. But hey, don’t let facts get in the way of anything.

One Response to Hello. Oh. Grunting. Bye.

  1. Richard Wallis July 4, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    It’s a difficult issue. I can accept that there are some double standards. But ‘noise is noise’? I was on a train today. There was a lot of noise from two main sources - from the train itself, the compressors and motors and the metal on track - and from techno music bleeding (and bleeping) into my ears from the tinny headphones of the selfish twerp sitting in front of me. Only one of these soundscapes was bugging me. Azarenka (appropriately enough as she usually comes on court wearing a hoodie and ‘in ear’ headphones) is like the irritating selfish person on the train. She’s a fantastic player but it is no exaggeration to say that the ludicrous noise she makes ruins my enjoyment of her tennis. Yes I could mute the volume just as I could stuff cotton wool in my ears on a train but then I’d miss other sounds that I’d quite like to be able to hear such as the crowd, commentary or the driver telling me the train’s on fire!
    Sharapova, the Williams sisters and Schiavone are marginally less annoying to me than Azarenka but still far more so than Nadal, Ferrer, Djok and Murray. Sexist? I don’t know. I’d much rather the men didn’t grunt but a grunt is so much easier on the ear than a shriek (Sharapova), a crappy firework (Azarenka) or a donkey in distress (Schiavone).
    I do think it’s extraordinary so many players have been allowed to go through their development without anyone close to them suggesting they pipe it down or (in Azarenka’s case) that she wasn’t sufficiently ridiculed by her peer group to change her ways.

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