On serve and when whipping his forehand, Novak Djokovic’s grunt is that of a bullfrog, “WooooAH-UH.” Rafael Nadal goes for a throatier, “AAArrgggHH.” Occasionally, Andy Murray offers up a more hushed, constricted, “Eeeeeehhh.” From Roger Federer, of course, we tend to get the sound of silence.
Yet here is a selection of headlines you’ll never read about tennis’ top men: “Earplugs ready, it’s the scream queen final,” ‘’Shrieks of nature,” or “It’s squeally not on.”
I didn’t make those up. Oh-so-witty, that is all stuff written about Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova before their women’s final at the Australian Open today.
Anyone else spot the sexist double-standards here?
The issue, if it really deserves to be called that, of women players disturbing fans and perhaps the odd opponent with their shrieks is not new but it’s an easy story for reporters to reheat and serve up when a ready excuse presents itself.
The Azarenka-Sharapova match was one such moment, because, yes, they both make a fair bit of noise.
The WTA also is partly to blame for this hoary old chestnut again becoming a topic of discussion. It played to the gallery with a statement this week saying it is “exploring how to reduce excessive grunting, especially for younger players just starting out” and is “aware that some fans find it bothersome.”
Which is surprising and somewhat confusing given that just three months ago, the WTA’s CEO, Stacey Allaster, said: “Grunting is part of our sport, full stop. Athletes hitting the ball as hard as they do, they expel, and there are sounds. Guys do it, women do it, been doing it for a long time.”
Azarenka and Sharapova’s tennis is far more interesting and noteworthy than the noise they make when hitting a ball. Yes, some people find their hoots too loud and too shrill and that irritates them. But my ears seem to screen out the racket.
As Allaster noted in October: “No one is doing this on purpose. It’s the way they’ve trained. It’s the way they hit the ball. The athletes are very ritual and habitual, and it might be such that this generation, this is the way it’s going to be.”
Even more to the point, she added: “I have not had one player come to me and complain, not one. It is not bothering the athletes.”
Azarenka and Sharapova reached today’s final because of better tennis and stronger will, not the loudest shrieks.