To wind up 2014, I’m reposting 14 articles I liked from this past season. I’ll put up one each day until January 5, when the new season begins. This spring, the commenter Jewell and I had a thorough chat on a popular subject.
Today a special guest joins me for the Rally. I'll discuss grunting, and the uproar over all those roars, with Jewell, a tennis fan and occasional contributor to Tennis.com from England.
To me, there are the politics of shrieking, and then there's my involuntary reaction to it, which are two different things. Let met start with an honest admission of the latter, which goes roughly like this:
When I tune into one of Victoria Azarenka's matches and hear her first "wooooooo" I think: Does she really have to make that noise? When I tune into one of Maria Sharapova's matches and hear her first throat-curdling roar, I laugh with the shock of it—it's never not a surprise at first. When I tune into one of Sara Errani's matches and hear her first holler of effort, I think about how much more I might enjoy her subtle game if—like, say, Agnieszka Radwanska—she didn't make such an unsubtle noise while she did it. On the rare occasions when I tune into a Marcel Granollers or Carlos Berlocq match and they're at full shout, I tune out as fast as I can.
Yet in the case of the women, by the middle of the first set I typically don't notice the noise anymore, or at least it doesn't bother me. If one player is shrieking and the other isn't, I will usually be sympathetic to the player who isn't; but I've never left, say, a Sharapova or Errani match because of the noise factor. I wonder if my overall reaction—initial dislike, gradual acceptance—is typical of most tennis fans. If so, is it enough to warrant a crackdown on grunting? As of last year, I would have answered yes, because I thought the recoil people felt was enough to drive them away from a match on TV. Now I'm not so sure if that's a good enough reason to try to quiet things down.
We'll get into the politics of this issue, whether women are unfairly singled out for it, and whether there's any reason to stop it. But let me ask you first what your reaction to a good old fashioned tennis howl is. Does it bother you? Do you not notice it? Do you actively like certain sounds that the players make?