Earplugs optional as top shriekers battle it out at Flushing Meadows
GRUNTS, shrieks and hoots. That is what fans can look forward to next week at the US Open, where earplugs will be optional while watching some of the world’s top players.
On the women’s side, the high-pitched shrieks get the most attention. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) in June announced plans to educate young players and coaches to keep the decibels down.
There has also been talk about chair umpires using a handheld "grunt-o-meter" — not unlike a radar gun on serves.
Opponents claim it is unfair as the noise makers make it hard to hear when a ball hits the racket, which helps in timing a return. Players can be penalised under the hindrance rule, if the chair umpires believe it is deliberate and creates an advantage.
Tennis fans have the option of turning down the volume on their TVs or — if watching in person — getting radio headsets.
Among the women, top-ranked Victoria Azarenka hoots with nearly every point, using an "AH-OOOOOH" sound that extends well past the point of contact with the ball. Maria Sharapova employs a high-octave shriek that reaches aria heights late in tight matches. The Williams sisters’ decibel levels tend to rise with important points.
On the men’s side, Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal grunt with their ground strokes, but as Billie Jean King points out, "It’s a lower grunt. Everyone seems to be okay with that. It’s the pitch of the grunt that bothers (fans)."
Among the quietest players? Effortless Roger Federer.
Teenager Monica Seles took the modern grunt to new levels in the early 1990s, using two-note "AH-HEEE" shrieks to accompany her two-handed shots on both wings. Her memoir noted she started tennis at age six and grunted from day one as she was so small and wanted to put every ounce of energy into the ball.
It is not particularly player-driven, with few complaints over the years to chair umpires. Chris Evert calls the cacophony annoying, but believes the criticism is more fan-and media-driven.
Brad Gilbert, a tennis commentator and former coach of Andre Agassi, says that if players start losing points, the noise will stop.
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