Doing the grunt work

Maria Sharapova

Martina Navratilova was presented with the ITF’s Philippe Chatrier Award last night at the world champions’ dinner in Paris and she used her acceptance speech to launch a verbal volley at the grunters in women’s tennis.

“Roger Federer doesn’t make a noise when he hits the ball – go and listen,” Navratilova said. “The grunting has reached an unacceptable level. It is cheating, pure and simple. It is time for something to be done.”


Grunting is a hot topic again largely because of Michelle Larcher De Brito, the 16-year-old Portuguese, who is probably the loudest grunter yet in professional tennis, and that’s saying something when Maria Sharapova was measured at 101.2 decibels – the sound of a light aircraft. It’s a problem that’s been around for years.

Here’s what former Wimbledon tournament referee Alan Mills had to say about grunting when he retired in 2005 after 22 years service. “I don’t like it at all. Today there is probably more grunting than there has ever been,” he said. “If I was playing an opponent making so much noise, I think I’d just laugh but it’s what young players are being coached to do.

“Many of the non-grunting players are unhappy about the noise pollution and a kind of counter-grunt culture has emerged in recent years whereby offended parties ape their opponent’s noises. As far as I’m concerned it is certainly a specific matter that the rule makers should address.”

If players lost points for excessive noise the grunting would stop pretty quick, but what I want to know is why is it mostly the women that grunt?

48 Comments

  1. svelterogue
    Posted 4 June, 2009 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    you obviously don’t watch men’s claycourt matches… in south america or spain, for example.

  2. Posted 4 June, 2009 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    actually, lots of men players grunt, but it’s low register :: women players squeal / shriek and so it’s MUCH more noticeable :: also, you will find the lung capacity is often very different between men and women, so the sounds are coming from and amplified in different parts of the body

  3. Elena
    Posted 4 June, 2009 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    First of all, have you heared Ferred? He was so loud during his match with Soderling! Secondly, I do agree about the granting, but a policy would be utterly discretionary. It would be up to the referee to decide whether the noise made is excessive. Or is there another way? Like measuring the sound?

    • bernie
      Posted 5 June, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      the grunting is so annoying,irritating to other players and fans. The umpire should give out court violations to players who repeatedly do it.

  4. Posted 4 June, 2009 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    I agree with bronwen. A lot of male players grunt it’s just that since they have lower voices, and women higher…it sounds as if the women are shrieking. The problem is, it fair to make people stop doing what might coming out unconsciously? Certainly the coaching to grunt needs to be controlled…but how do we know who’s being coache and who’s doing it unconsciously?

  5. Jesus Gallardo
    Posted 4 June, 2009 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    I agree with the idea of grunting being totally unnecessary and quite bothering. I think the female players should get penalized with points during matches and for sure I think the grunting will stop. It is just not fair for the other player.

  6. Jane
    Posted 4 June, 2009 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    I totally agree. I cannot stand the shrieking, am sure they do it on purpose and I consider it to be cheating. I will not watch any match involving Sharapova or any other female player who does it. The men don’t bother me as much but they should stop too. It adds nothing to the game but takes away a lot.

  7. Laura
    Posted 4 June, 2009 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Grunting is completely unnecessary. It’s also distracting to players and annoying to spectators. Watch matches from 20 years ago — you never heard Chris Evert or Steffi Graf or Martina Navratilova grunt. What for? They didn’t need to make all that noise. And that’s exactly what it is … noise! If everyone in the stands and on court (linesmen, ball boys, etc.) have to be quiet, why shouldn’t a player be able to expect the same from his/her opponent?

    • Richard
      Posted 4 June, 2009 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

      Actually, in martial arts the grunts don’t make you strike harder. They constrict your abdominal muscles so that if you take a take a counter blow to the stomach your already protected. The breathing excersizes that usually associate boxing or other faster striking martial arts is to make a little hissing noise, barely noticable, and that’s to make sure that your breathing. The ‘Kiahs’ are war cries to get your opponent off guard.

      In many ways, it’s a mental attack, just like in Tennis. If they’re grunting, whether meaning to or not, it’s psychological warfare against there opponent. I’d assume that this could completely throw off one’s opponent during a match and completely change the flow of a game. While I find it annoying, it’s interesting to see whether the opposition is mentally strong enough to deal with it.

      Regardless, I’d push for penalizing the more excessive grunting, not the one’s that happen when your straining to get to the ball.

  8. Erin
    Posted 4 June, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Actually the grunting in tennis is sort of like martial arts. In martial arts, when you kick or punch something, you’re taught to grunt, yell, or shout “kiah” because it makes sure you exhale hard and it actually causes you to hit hard. The same thing goes for tennis, the players inhale when the ball is coming towards them and when they hit the ball they grunt because t actually causes them to hit harder.

  9. Posted 4 June, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Shrieking; grunting; shrilling; yelling whatever…it is a covert way of exploitation, just to off-set the opponent. The women hide behind their higher voices but the intention is the same for men or women. I agree it is a subtle way of cheating just like knocking a ball out of your pocket to call a “let”. the intention is to distract your opponent.

  10. Zman
    Posted 4 June, 2009 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Hi!

    I agree that somehow it should be regulated. However since I’m a ‘grunter’ too, I know that I’m not making it on purpose and definitely not making it because I want to distract my opponent. I play this way from the first point until the last and that’s the way I’m trying to push harder and hit harder. There are mockings and there are players who do it un purpose to distract others. Those should be penalized.

  11. minnie
    Posted 4 June, 2009 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    The “Grunting”is cheating, pure and simple. Like Navratilova stated. It not only takes from the players, but lowers the enjoyment level of the audience. It’s ridiculous and something needs to be done.

  12. jesus gallardo
    Posted 4 June, 2009 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    I don’t agree with grunting being a “technique” to hit harder, as some of the ladies have mentioned, howcome even bigger stars than the ones from today never had to apply such “techniques”??? even if they need to exhale harder they should do it in a quieter way… it is not to cover or to justify the men’s grunting, but in men’s tennis it is not as loud and it is the very high pitch on the women who grunt that makes it very annoying to watch, stand and I just can imagine for the other player to bare…
    That new girl Debrito, it is just ridiculous how loud she gets when she hits the ball… that should not be allowed anymore, I hope some regulation comes into place sometime soon.

  13. Jeremy
    Posted 4 June, 2009 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Martina! The grunting has truly gotten excessive, and it’s the screaming that really annoys me. Maria Sharapova has been the top offender, to be sure, but many others are contending. The women’s high pitch is the biggest issue. I know that many men grunt, too, but at the lower register it’s just not nearly as bothersome. For Nadal and Ferrer, it seems a product of their effort and not excessive, but Sharapova just goes over the top to be distracting or intimidating. I agree that penalizing it should be the referee’s discretion, and something the opponent can appeal for.

  14. Nisher
    Posted 4 June, 2009 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Some of the grunting is involuntary. Alot of the guys grunt, it’s just not noticeable. Sometimes grunting does make you hit harder. I mean it’s stupid if the coach teaches the player to grunt/shriek but can you actually penalize a player for something that could be happening unconsciously? Even when i play, I do grunt if I hit the ball harder than normal, everyone does that. If the strain is harder on girls and that’s why they’re grunting, then why reprimand her for doing something that is bettering her game?

  15. Posted 4 June, 2009 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    I don’t agree that grunting should be penalized because, as what the others have said, they may be doing it to exhale hard and therefore hit the ball hard. It’s a tactic for them having to grunt and I don’t think it is done to cheat. IMHO only.

    • Anonymous
      Posted 22 June, 2009 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      I truly can’t even watch womens matches with these vicious screams. It is really grotesque and graceless for such a sport. It sounds like a deathmatch in a bad karate movie. Absurd really. At least safina keeps it real, though I’ve heard her testing the waters a bit. Imagine roger doing these noises. I would not even watch tennis anymore if he did

  16. Posted 4 June, 2009 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    I am sick of hearing all the screaming that goes on in a tennis match the men are as bad as the women it isn’t pleasant to listen to especially when you get screaming Sharapova and the other girl i don’t know her name it’s disgusting and we should not be expected to have to put up with it,it should be banned also they should stop Jocovic bouncing the ball so many times that to is distracting and wastes time.

  17. geekgirl
    Posted 4 June, 2009 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    The reason I think it’s gamesmanship in many cases is because the grunters never do it on every single shot in every single point. The most egregious offenders like the Williams sisters, Sharapova, etc. turn it off and on, often in the middle of points. So the argument that it’s just part of how they hit the ball is bogus. They can hit the ball without grunting.

    I do think the players should tone it down, but I don’t really think there’s any fair way to actually regulate it. And I think it’s unfair to single out De Brito. If you enforce some kind of volume limit on her, then you have to do the same for Venus, Serena, Sharapova, etc. I always thought Venus and Serena were both louder than Sharapova, and lest we forget Monica Seles who started this debate over 15 years ago. I have never seen anyone ever mention the sisters’ volume level, even early in their careers, which was only a few short years after Seles was derided into on-court silence at Wimbledon in 1992. Just proof that there will probably never be a solution to this if it’s left as a subjective assessment by the officials. Someone needs to develop a Grunt-o-Meter to be used on the court to automatically penalize the offenders, just like the electronic net cord calling device, or the old service line machine, Cyclops. In fact, while we’re at it, why don’t we just forget the score and have an 800 number where people can call in and vote for the winner they want.

  18. Rod
    Posted 5 June, 2009 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    I watched a small amount of one of the French open semis last night and the Russian was grunting every shot – I got fed up with it after two games.

    So I am also against it, like most of the people who have logged responses. The martial arts comparison which supports grunting does not have my vote. In cricket, an umpire calls dead ball and provides a warning to the fielding captain if there is noticeable noise as the bowler comes into bowl. There is probably similar reaction time in cricket and tennis and any distraction to the batsman is unsporting. We should therefore deal with the problem at source and stop grunting in tennis rather than have every player train their mind to deal with it to compensate against the irritation.i.e. so many warnings followed by points deductions.

  19. Bianca M
    Posted 5 June, 2009 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Its not even grunting anymore…it almost sounds like these players are screaming…its entirely too loud…i sat thru a match once at Court 1 at wimbledon where Sharapova was playing…in stadium the sound is amplified even more…as a spectator it was not pleasent, i cant imagine how the opponent cant get distracted!

  20. David Doss
    Posted 5 June, 2009 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    There is no cheating involved. There is no such thing as an illegal or improper grunt. All there is is a hindrance if and only if the other refuses to play the ball when hindered and demands a hindrance call based on the clear rule defining loud gruntint as hindrance. Until then, there is only nagging and complaining and whining, which Martina is amazingingly adept at.
    One might also simply ask the referee. “If I stop the point and demand a hindrance call as defined by the rules, will you grant it?” Until then, there is no hindrance so long as the opponent plays the ball. When will a player have the guts to demand a hindrance and put an end to the nonsense? I’m surprisd Brad Gilbert hasn’t suggested it.

  21. Sabrina
    Posted 5 June, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    well, it is true that 20 years the women didn’t grunt or make any type of noise during their matches.
    But what you should consider is, that today, we play at a completely different level, you cant compare one with another. Today we play a lot harder, more power, more speed.
    You give everything on the court and into every ball. Have you ever lifted or pushed something very heavy and you needed to use all your power and strenght for it??? If you did, you’d know that in order to do that, even you will grunt or make some type of noise…
    Think about it!!!

  22. lufc71
    Posted 7 June, 2009 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    Grunting is cheating, pure and simple. This argument that it’s because of the extra effort used for a shot is rubbish; look at Sharapova. She grunts loudly ‘after’ she’s hit the ball not ‘as’ she hits the ball. She, like Seles, has played matches with no grunting, so why can’t she do it all the time? Simple; she’s cheating.

  23. Heidi
    Posted 7 June, 2009 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Grunting is used as an offensive tactic by many players these days. I often mute the volume on my TV because I find it so intolerable. That’s not an acceptable alternative though, because I miss out on some great commentators. I really pitty the live spectators who have no volume control, too.

    I definitely think this issue should be addressed formally, including with warnings and point deductions.

  24. Suhapri
    Posted 7 June, 2009 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Thank u very much Martina for bringing up this issue which has been plaguing and irking international tennis for quite some time. Even grunting can be tolerated to a certain extent, but it’s the “shrieking” that gets on one’s nerves and makes viewing a good match impossible. This is most prominent in Women’s tennis (read Sharapova,William sisters). Nobody’s got the nerve to question them and she seems to be enjoying it to the fullest. She may not be the only one but she seems to be the most prominent one.
    There should be a new rule. Every shriek’s dB level should be displayed. If the noise/shriek exceeds a certain dB, points should be immediately deducted, or awarded to the opponent. Or a more extreme step would be for the opponent to stop play till the grunting ceases.
    This sounds extremely impossible & stupid but there’s no other better way of humiliating the shrieker. Or another method would be to display the dB level of each shriek along with a display of an equivalent source of noise ( like jet plane, rock concert!) There may be some some who’ll support this noise making but overall it just cannot be accepted as it’s against the spirit of fair tennis.

  25. Posted 8 June, 2009 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    Seems to me Sharapova and the Williams Sisters only shriek (I call it a shriek not a grunt) when they are loosing or behind in points the more they behind the higher the shriek, yet I have heard both parties play without making a sound at times, I have also noticed other players have adopted the same tactics. Whatever happened to sportsmanship and fair play, seems it is a dying art. In reply to Sabrina’s remark, if as u say when pushing or lifting somthing heavy ppl need to grunt or shriek why then don’t ALL the players make the grunt or shriek and besides why do the decibles have to be so loud and off putting at certain times of the game.

  26. jen s
    Posted 8 June, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Anyone who has played any sport knows that expelling air when you make contact helps. In team sports the conditions are louder and the grunting or shrieking is not so isolated
    But in tennis the conditions are ripe for amplification. The players need to tone it down because it is distracting to fans and players. Players out there who are loud on the court(and you know who you are)please start working on controlling your voices as well as the ball.

  27. Steffi
    Posted 8 June, 2009 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    My midwife told me to not grunt during delivery, since it would cost me energy much needed for something else.In that light, it would be very unwise using your power to grunt in stead of hitting the ball! However, I think that if players don’t need to be silent on court, you could just as easily permit the public to chat and cheer all they want. So: either everybody keeps their mouth shut, or nobody has to. See how the grunters respond to that.

  28. rolito cupino
    Posted 9 June, 2009 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Can you really stop what’s coming out naturally and unconsciously at that? Grunting is an emotion that has to be released and players, instinctively do it under stressful conditions. I do not believe that a player does it on purpose to distract his or her opponent, much less to attract attention.

  29. Alison
    Posted 9 June, 2009 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Maybe the spectators could shame them into stopping – if a player was shrieking too loudly, and every time it happened the spectators could shriek in unison, it might embarrass them into stopping!

  30. Posted 11 June, 2009 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Reply
    Dee

    Do agree with the awful, hoorible verbal noise that is a common practice in the womens tennis game.
    maria and the william sisters are the worst of older examples and they seem to have set a precedence. It is a wonder the tennis federation has turned a deaf ear to the horrible shrieks and grunts so far. There should be a rule in tennis that such disturbing “emissions”cannot be practiced at all to be fair to all players. Most of them do that to intimidate their opponent and that is call broad daylight cheating. Hope the shrieks and grunts will be ended when Wimbleton 2009 begins. Look forward for peaceful viewing of future tennis.

  31. Jim Pryor
    Posted 13 June, 2009 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    I fully agree that the squealing of Sharapova and other should be stopped straight away.The great ladies of the past,mentioned above,never resorted to this sort of cheating,and they were much better players than the current crop.On television,it spoils the commentary and the entertainment value,but at least you can use the mute,which I do,and watch the game in silence.At courtside,there is no escape,and to suffer this awful noise after paying a lot for your ticket,must make spectators angry at having their day out spoilt. The umpire should not wait for complaints,but should warn the shriekers before the match begins that they will be penalised if they make such noise. Imagine if they started doing it in Golf,other racquet games or Snooker!
    Jim Pryor

  32. oliver
    Posted 14 June, 2009 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    i think it is fine for players to grunt, they are obviously trying to hit the ball there hardest and at the best of there ability and it comes naturally. Navratilova is making a big deal out of nothing.

  33. Trevor Giblin
    Posted 15 June, 2009 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    Someone tell them it’s just immature!

  34. Helen Kearney
    Posted 16 June, 2009 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    I cannot watch a tennis match with Maria Sharapova playing because I find myself getting so irritable so I just switch off!!
    Some of these noises are really embarrassing and sound like they are being physically attacked or worse being raped !! It is not necessary to screech just to play a shot, for God’s sake how do all the other great players get through their matches without the ridiculous noises coming from these freaks?

  35. Ouma Moana
    Posted 18 June, 2009 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    I believe if tennis players rather concentrate on their tennis and less on all their grunting, sqealing and shrieking they will have more energy and power to play the game! Tennis authorities should just “ban” it! I believe it’s just bad manners, a transparant “strategy” to deter opponents … overall a very bad habit! I just “mute” but their opponents can’t!

  36. Posted 18 June, 2009 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    A rule against grunting would be a great shame, because:

    (a) Grunting is music to my ears.

    (b) A rule against grunting could ruin the performance of certain players if they had to worry about their grunting. Monica Seles was railroaded into playing the Wimbledon 1992 final without grunting, after her two previous opponents complained about it and she was crucified by the British press.

    The bottom line is that grunting should be tolerated, and if you don’t like it, wear earplugs.

  37. Cheryl Litchie
    Posted 19 June, 2009 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Martina. As an avid fan of tennis for more than 30 years, the noise level is getting out of hand for the women and for no good reason that I can see. I can tolerate grunting BUT not the shreiking that is taking place in today’s game. I didn’t like it when Monica Seles did it and I don’t like watching Sharapova (except on MUTE) today. If the girl from Portugal becomes a top player, she will go on mute also and I certainly would never pay to see these girls play. Isn’t that an important bottomline? I don’t watch or pay to watch screaming women—-give me a men’s match any day.

  38. lai
    Posted 19 June, 2009 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    grunting is definitely very irritating (entertaining but almost always irritating) for the audience, how much more for the grunter’s opponent? one makes a sound when hitting the ball (specially under pressure) but not a squealing sound. i think on can be trained to control the grunting sound. hope the tennis officials can do something about this.

  39. big a
    Posted 26 June, 2009 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    is it only me or is Sue Barker turning into Anne Widecombe

  40. marguerite Strohl
    Posted 26 June, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    I have to turn the volume off, so I don’t hear the irritating sound of this Sharapova person. She is disgusting, much like the Butt picking of Nadal. I rate them the same. DISGUSTING!!!

  41. Posted 27 July, 2010 at 3:15 am | Permalink

    I think there is a huge difference between grunting after every single shot and a martial arts “kiai” or spirit yell. The spirit yell is done a couple of times throughout the entire exercise at specific points for emphasis. I agree with Richard that the yell does not add power to your technique. It is done for effect.

  42. Posted 27 July, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    It would be pretty hard to judge “excessive grunting”, but I’m sure that some sort of penalty would cut it down.

  43. Posted 29 July, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    @ Jim – I think if they started grunting at snooker it would certainly raise a few eyebrows!

    I agree with the majority of comments on here, the grunting is both annoying and for many unnecessary. It is just a habit they have picked up. Strange how it seems much more common in the ladies game than in the mens game.

  44. Posted 5 August, 2010 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    If in previous years people have been able to play without the lound grunting, it should be possible again.

  45. Posted 28 November, 2010 at 1:10 am | Permalink

    tennis without grunting, is like a rock concert in tv!!


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