Does tennis need to start thinking seriously about an industry-standard ‘grunt-ometer’? Without an accurate, objective way of measuring the shriekers and the screamers, how can you ever possibly introduce what the sport surely needs, which is a decibel limit (and perhaps an accompanying policy of three excessive grunts and you’re out).
We are forever being told that Maria Sharapova’s grunt has been measured at 105 decibels, making her as noisy as an ambulance siren, just louder than a small aircraft landing, and only just quieter than a lion’s roar. But the numbers for Maria’s shrieking are always unofficial, and potentially quite inaccurate, just as they are for Victoria Azarenka’s shrieking, and for every other ‘grunter’ who is monitored by the noise pollution vigilantes who take it upon themselves to point a decibel-counter. It has passed into tennis legend that when Monica Seles struck the ball, the noise she made was just under 100 decibels, so about as loud as a pneumatic drill. But how accurate was that reading?
The other day, when discussing grunting with Dr Stuart Miller, head of the International Tennis Federation’s science and technical department, he spoke of the difficulties of measuring grunting, and how all numbers were currently “unofficial”. If the sport is going to do something to quieten the grunters – and the indications are that they are becoming more pro-active about this – then one of the first things they need is an accurate, standardised way of knowing exactly how much noise the players are making.
Though some television broadcasters have been using on-court microphones – at this year’s Australian Open, Channel 7 had a ‘Whoo-meter’ – there is not a huge amount of science behind it. “There are so many factors involved in measuring grunting objectively and meaningfully, and it would be challenging to do that,” said Miller, with those factors believed to include acoustics in the stadium, and the positioning of the decibel-counter. “It’s so far only been unofficial. I think TV microphones have been used at some tournaments.”
The reason that the ITF are yet to develop a recognised grunt-ometer is that no one – no tour or tournament – has formally asked them to start looking into this issue. “People have mentioned it, but no one has officially said: ‘Please make some measurements’. Grunting has been on our radar indirectly, mainly through the publicity it has attracted around the tennis community over the last couple of years,” Miller said. “We haven’t been asked specifically to deal with anything, but would be happy to help if asked. But clearly we have been aware that there has been an issue which may be affecting the rules of tennis and some technical considerations within the game.”
Of course, there would soon be demands to put the live numbers from the grunt-ometers on a screen in the stadium, just as every tournament does now for the service speed-gun. But Wwould that add to the spectacle? Or risk cheapening and demeaning the whole sport?