For now-retired tennis greats Jimmy Connors and Monica Seles, on-the-court grunts were personal trademarks, aural outgrowths of their aggressive style of play. But squealing forehands have been so common at Wimbledon this year that Ian Ritchie, the head of the All England Lawn and Tennis Club, is calling for an end to grunting and shrieking on the court. A ban would be difficult to enforce, but Ritchie is onto something: howling has made the game increasingly difficult to watch and, according to some competitors, play.
Maria Sharapova’s high-pitched yelps often register at over 100 decibels, which is comparable to the grind of an industrial blender. At 90 decibels, Venus and Serena Williams’ yowls rival the screech of a subway car. And during one Wimbledon set last week, Victoria Azarenka belted out several 95-decibel bellows that extended for more than 1.5 seconds. Spectators may have bought tickets for a tennis match, but their ears attended a monster truck rally.
In defending her right to grunt, Azarenka has argued that the noises are just part of her natural breathing system. But almost all Grand Slam champs have managed to win without bursting their opponents’ eardrums. It’s the best strokes — not the loudest grunts — that win matches and win over fans.