It swings into action at this time every year and it is, without a doubt, the most annoying sound of summer.
No, not the shrill of horny crickets outside your bedroom window, or the early morning neighbour with the dangerous combination of stamina and motorised lawn clippers. The noise I’m talking about makes The Fanatics sound like Dame Nellie Melba, makes the insomniac drummer who lives two doors down from me almost bearable.
The sound is, of course, the deafening roar of whining, griping and moaning tennis watchers banging on about player noise. Cue Alanis Morissette…
Oh it’s so boring, so predictable – you can set your watch by them. Yawn. The mere mention of Maria Sharapova sets them off. Yap. Yap. Yap. Before long it’s a feeding frenzy: I can’t watch her; it’s shocking; she should be punished; she should be banned – and my personal favourite – she sounds like she’s having an orgasm (Let’s face facts, the chance of this being verified by any of the bleaters is, at best, nought percent).
By the end of the Australian Open the wailing, head-shaking beast has been so well nourished on its tut-tutting disapproval of the “grunt’n’shriek” that it resembles The Blob (Only this is a far more sanctimonious and irritating version of said alien).
I’ve tried other ways to cocoon myself from the society of whingers but they’re a resilient lot with numbers on their side. Nothing is more cathartic than sharing your pain with someone else and don’t they know it. Honestly, if I hear one more person moaning I’m going to let rip a noise that’ll make the chairs in Margaret Court Arena get up and walk out.
If you don’t like the grunts and squeals some players make while hitting the ball flick to Grand Designs (it’s always on).
The grunting has never bothered me. There, I said it. In the crowd at Rod Laver Arena or nestled on the couch, I’m ok with it. It doesn’t detract from my experience of watching the best players in the world go about their business. I’m all for self-expression; it adds colour and shows the players are giving their all.
It’s not a popular view, but I just don’t see the point in having a once-a-year collective, media-fuelled grumble about exertion noise. Surely, there are worse noises in sport, worse crimes in sport. I’d rather save my energy for the serious stuff like match fixing, drugs and sexism.
Speaking of which, most of the criticism (and anger) is aimed at women players. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are hardly church mice on the court. Or is their guttural noise somehow more acceptable because the pitch is lower? Perhaps the solution is to juice up the women with testosterone?
The WTA has decided to coach the trait out of the next generation of players rather than punish present-day exponents by enforcing the hindrance rule or imposing bans. Late last year it began “quietly” testing noise levels at tournaments as part of its phase-out approach. It’s a far cry from the three-pronged plan announced in 2012, which focused on technology, rule changes and education – oh, and the possible development of a hand-held “grunt-o-meter” device for umpires.
So the WTA isn’t showing any haste and the players rarely exercise their right to complain about it on court. So why should we be so hot and bothered?
Purists say it’s a deliberate tactic to intimidate. Blatant cheating because the noise disguises the sound of the ball coming off the racquet. Those on that side of the net believe the penalty should be the same as for any other unsporting conduct in tennis – warning, point penalty, forfeit. The other side says it’s all part of physical exertion.
Martial artists have been using noise with exertion for centuries. You don’t hear people asking them to turn down the volume on their Chi transference.
I don’t know if grunting can help execute the perfect crosscourt winner or save a match point? What I do know is it’s not new (see the video below). Jimmy Connors was grunting his way to victory long before Monica Seles was accused of starting it. They, like their contemporaries, say it’s not tactical – it’s how they’ve always played, and been taught to play. It’s part of their rhythm and style. It makes them the dynamic players they are today.
That may not be music to your ears, but there’s always a set of earplugs.