With Maria Sharapova to play Victoria Azarenka for the Australian Open title, Saturday’s match on the Rod Laver Arena will be the loudest grand slam final in history. The Tennis Space presents The Grunting Miscellany.
Desciptions of Azarenka’s grunt:
“Less a grunt than a long, high-pitched squeal, it could easily be mistaken for the mating call of the peacock.” – The Times.
“Like she’s rather enjoying being spanked” – a (female) columnist for The Guardian.
“An auditory assault, a stuck-pig-giving-birth soundtrack.” – Sports Illustrated.
“A ghost haunting a house.”
“Like Mickey Mouse in distress” – one observer (or should that be listener?) at Wimbledon last summer.
“A balloon being deflated.”
“Azarenka’s emissions stray well beyond ‘woman busting a gut’ into the realms of ‘woman having her nipples pierced with a blunt needle’. It is difficult to describe, let alone spell, the noise Azarenka makes as she swipes the ball. However, when the umpire called for ‘new balls’, it might have been in the mistaken belief she had heard a choir of castrated schoolboys.” – Richard Hinds, of The Age, who has called the female grunters ‘The Deci-Belles’.
Descriptions of Sharapova’s grunt:
“At its most extreme, it’s like the noise an owl might make were you to hit it hard with a stick.” – Giles Smith, of The Times.
“Climactic shriek of the blue-movie variety.”
“Something approaching the climax of a municipal fireworks display.”
“Like a woman about to give birth to triplets.” – The Telegraph
“An angry parakeet.”
“A pneumatic drill.”
Where they are on the shriek-ometer or decibel-counter:
Maria Sharapova: 105 decibels (which is louder than a motorcycle, lawnmower, or a small aircraft landing, about the same as an ambulance siren, and only five decibels quieter than a lion’s roar).
Victoria Azarenka: 95 decibels, so 10 decibels quieter than Sharapova’s, but Azarenka’s grunt is longer, with the average sound lasting some 1.5 seconds.
What the locals think:
Channel 7, the host broadcaster, has a ‘Whoo-Meter.’
View from the locker-room – what other players say about grunters:
Agnieszka Radwanska, the world number eight from Poland, and a quarter-finalist at the Australian Open: “About Maria Sharapova, I mean, what can I say? For sure that is pretty annoying and it’s just too loud.” (Sharapova’s response? “Isn’t she back in Poland already? When did she get the chance to say that?”)
Caroline Wozniacki: “I think there are some players who grunt on purpose. They don’t do it in practice and then they come into the match and they grunt. I think the officials could definitely cut it. If you grunt really loudly your opponent cannot hear how you hit the ball. Because the grunt is so loud, you think the ball is coming fast and suddenly the ball just goes slowly.”
A player can be penalised for “a deliberate act” of hindrance. But the rule is rarely enforced.
What is being done about it:
In a statement this week, the women’s tour said they were “aware that some fans find it bothersome”. “We are currently in the process of exploring how to reduce excessive grunting, especially for younger players just starting out, without adversely affecting players who have developed their game under the current training, rules and procedures. We do believe that we need to address the concerns expressed by some fans and take a careful look at our rules and education policies.”
Observations on last year’s meeting between Sharapova and Azarenka in the Miami final:
“In some hotels, the first five minutes of this match are free.” – Jon Wertheim, of Sports Illustrated.
“The noise became so ridiculous during one long rally that the crowd got the giggles.” – The Telegraph.
What they say about their own grunting:
Azarenka: “It’s the way I am, the way I play, the way I used to play when I was a kid. As a child I was really weak, so I had to give that little extra power there. It kind of stuck with me, so that’s it.”
Azarenka, after the crowd imitated her grunting earlier in this tournament: “I have no problem with that at all actually. It’s fine by me. It doesn’t really bother me. I respect the crowd, whatever they do. I try to just be focused on my game, and that’s it.”
Sharapova: “I’ve been the same over the course of my career. No one important enough has told me to change or do something different.”