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Ear plugs are available – time to put a stop to the screamers in women's tennis

Dear Readers, here's a guest post from sportswriter and tennis fan David Fearnhead voicing his discontent with Maria Sharapova's screaming. Do you share his opinion?

Buried somewhere in the tennis rule book is an article on hinderance. It states that "If a player is hindered by an opponent then he or she wins the point, unless it's unintentional, in which case the point is replayed." Much of the implementation of this law is down to the umpire. There are obvious cases where this has been used. Remember the beads of Venus Williams’ hair falling out and spraying all over the court during the ’99 Australian Open, or more recently Elena Dementieva’s troublesome hat.

Maria SharapovaHowever an old adversary of the Women’s game is rearing its ugly head once more – grunting. I agree with Nick Bollettieri’s assertion that when you’re putting all into hitting the ball as hard as you can you are going to make some noise as you exhale, but there is a world of difference from these breathy strains and the outright screaming of some players.

Nobody expects players to remain completely silent. There should, however, be limits. Exhibit A for the prosecution would be the clash between the talented Czech player Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova and Maria Sharapova at this year’s Wimbledon. This third round match-up had everything for a thrilling encounter. Sharapova was finally coming back into form and Zahlavova-Strycova had just come through a three-setter in which she ousted the number 24 seed Daniela Hantuchova.

Sharapova took it in two sets, edging the first 7-5 followed by a more comfortable 6-3 in the second. However this does not tell the full story of the match. Sure at times it seemed like hawkeye was deliberately favouring Sharapova, and you have to applaud the Russian’s ability to read the lines and know when to challenge, but one niggling doubt over the legitimacy of that victory remains. On that afternoon number one court echoed to the constant screams of the 16th seed. These were not the strains of player trying to put every ounce of herself into every strike, but a seemingly deliberate attempt to destabilize her opponent.

The defence may argue it’s habit, that Sharapova has always screamed when hitting the ball hard. To stop her from doing so would interfere with the rhythm of her game. This may well be so, but why then did she also make the same noise when playing a soft drop shot? The simple answer to that would appear to be that if she stopped the scream when making a drop shot then her opponent would know and be ready for it. This then is a deliberate deception through noise, and surely that is "hinderance".

More than once Zahlavova-Strycova was heard to mutter to the skies about the unnatural amount of noise coming over from the other side of the net. The umpire did nothing. Zahlavova-Strycova could have complained but then that would risk getting the crowd on her back and the umpire would probably have done nothing about it anyway. So the Czech player was in a lose/lose situation, unsettled in an unfair manner and unable to do anything about the cause of her complaint.

Sharapova is not the only guilty target. The Williams sisters seem to turn up the noise too when under pressure. Some might also point out Victoria Azarenka, but her elongated sound is a more natural and tracks perfectly with the flight of the ball. I find her to be an honest player. I’m yet to hear her elongate a scream when she’s playing drop shot. If anything it’s more beneficial to her opponents as they can tell the speed she’s put on the ball.

Of course mental strength is all part of the game, but surely it’s about time the WTA stepped in to stop the unsettling screams which are many people’s first reason for switching off Women’s tennis.

David Fearnhead is a freelance sportswriter and author.
His novel Bailey of the Saints will be published later this year.

(photo by Stephane Martinache)

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29 thoughts on “Ear plugs are available – time to put a stop to the screamers in women's tennis

  1. TennisAce

    I agree that something needs to be done about the grunting of the women. But, I would hope that they would do the same thing about the men as well. They even grunt when slicing the ball. When they stop the men from doing it, then they can work on the women.

    I agree that a lot of Sharapova's grunts are intimidating in nature, but so are those of many other players. It is an unfair advantage and should be enforced by the umpires.

    In Serena's recent match against Kvitokova I have no idea what that sound was but that needs to be outlawed as well.

  2. SpanishAl

    Thanks for addressing this issue! It is about time something was done about this, but really can you see them doing so? The biggest screamers for intimidation are the Williams sisters and Sharapova, both big commercial draws for the Womens game. They might punish some of the younger players but once you're an established star no chance. I watched the Sharapova match against the Czech girl and I too thought the Czech girl played the better game. Take away the screaming of Sharapova and you've taken away a big weapon of hers – intimidation.

  3. el

    I've read from other blogs that viewers "mute" the sound when Sharapova plays (I'm included). Screaming is an issue that should be addressed and this issue was brought to the fore front years ago and nothing was done.

    IMO there is also the issue of illegal coaching getting the blind eye from the chair and the WTA. When the top draws of a tournament are guilty of these behaviors there is always a blind eye.

    As long as the WTA employ a subjective view of these issues it will never be addressed in any serious format.

  4. Bróna

    I'm probably in the minority, but I have to say that players' grunting, screaming or whatever you want to call it does not bother me in the slightest. It's become a part of the game and I think if the WTA were to do anything about it they would find it very difficult to prevent the players from doing it during matches.

  5. marine

    I do not like grunting at all. I think it's nothing but gamesmanship. It should be completely forbidden because otherwise people would be always trying to push the rules. Williams sisters and Sharapova are probably the worst offenders, however others followed the suit: Larcher the Brito, Schiavone, Martinez-Sanchez to name a few.
    Believe me, they do not need to grunt at all, they only do it to distract the opponent. I saw some of Sharapova's matches where she wasn;t grunting almost at all. And the reason? The matches were tough and she was obviously trying to concentrate.

  6. el

    @ marine.

    "I saw some of Sharapova's matches where she wasn;t grunting almost at all. And the reason? The matches were tough and she was obviously trying to concentrate."

    lmao. heheheheh! Just too funny!

  7. Lilly

    While there is talk of grunting of being a bad thing for the game, there is a difference between grunting and shrieking. Sharapova is the main example of shrieking. Others include Larcher de Brito, Azarenka and Venus-just off the top of my head. It's an ear-piercing sound. Grunting is lower in terms of the decibels, even if louder (in the men's game). I can handle grunting because my hands don't reach up and cover my ears automatically.

    "Nick Bollettieri’s assertion that when you’re putting all into hitting the ball as hard as you can you are going to make some noise as you exhale"
    – Isn't it funny that must of HIS players are the culprits of shrieking? I don't know him personally, but it seems like he teaches his pupils to shriek. Often I find in matches the girls who are shrieking do it to distract their opponent which can seem unfair and downright annoying. I think they should get rid of it.

    Of course I don't expect the WTA to not allow the players to exhale/breathe/shriek/grunt, but umpires need to take responsibility and give warnings when their ears hurt. I don't think there should be a complaint from the other player but rather it should come from the umpire's judgement of it being too loud. And we don't need anything to measure when something is "too loud"-if you're ears hurt, then it's too loud. If you dread hearing the sound, then it's too loud. Umpires are in charge and should decide. Not sure if this is the best solution, but it's a step to remedying this problem.

  8. Karunya

    I agree completely with Fearnman. Fans, WTA officials and (sometimes) sportswriters it seems will go to any length to turn a blind eye to/encourage/give an acceptable twist to some of the unsportsmanlike conduct from top players.

    @TennisAce

    While ATP players "grunt", the sounds emitted by WTA players is more near a "shriek" or a "scream".
    The second one is more intentional and annoying.

    There are a lot of things that can be called unsportsmanlike in the men's tennis – time taken between serves, bouncing the ball hundred times before serving, fake MTOs, etc.

    But that is not an excuse for not trying to correct the faults in women's tennis.

  9. Sav

    Maria grunted louder in her match against Barbora than in other matches. You can tell they "hate" each other. Anyone who saw the match would have witnessed Barbora's attitude. Then again, that's what she's famous between tennis fans for. Even the commentator said she was acting like a 10 year old.

  10. LuLinQa

    I don´t mind it that much, but it´s not necessary to grunt on every ball, I mean it is honest and natural only in really tough balls. Masha´s screams are sooo weird, when I try to scream like her only a bit, I automaticly have a sore throat.

  11. Marija Post author

    I happen to be in minority, but screams don't bother me, and I don't need to mute the sound. Although, I know a lot of people absolutely can't stand it, I've been receiving emails from people annoyed by the high decibels (as if I can influence players' screams).

    As for players using it as a strategy to distract their opponent, I'll have to pay more attention to that, I can't make any claims now, but could be… It's not absolutely necessary to scream your heart when playing tennis. I understand it is their habit now… but I don't know, maybe somebody could have redirected them from screaming in the early days.

    Lilly, good observation about Bollettieri. :)

  12. Tony

    I agree with all those who say the shrieking is simply gamesmanship. Yes, if you put a lot of effort into a shot you will expell air, there may be a bit of a grunt, but shrieking? Where does that come from? It most certainly is NOT a natural thing.

    I spoke to Mariana Alves at the tournament in Marbella back in April and asked her about this. I asked her why, if Henin had lost a point for 'interference' recently (for shouting "Allez" during a rally) someone like Sharapova wasn't penalised for her shrieking.

    I asked what the difference was as, in my opinion, one is as offputting to an opponent as the other,and she just shrugged and smiled, almost as though to say "But its Sharapova, what can you do?"

    I'd say that if anyone was to be penalised, for the noise they make, it would be someone like Larcher de Brito as the 'stars' of the game seem to be untouchable.

  13. marine

    I cannot stand this star treatment in WTA. It must make relationships between players pretty tense when they see that some people get away with bending the rules.

  14. LankyDes

    I agree completely with the anti screamers and grunters. I just will not watch a game involving two of them and always support the non grunter in any game(includding men's) . Look at Sam Stosur. She wacks the ball as hard as most but has no need for gamesmanship. I just wish there were a few more women in the game as worth watching as her.

    Des,Liverpool,England

  15. Oy

    The noise doesn't bother me at all. Let's see the tennis association try to shut up Serena's and Venus' screams.

  16. OYO

    Venus and Serena scream like banshees. Let's see if the tennis assoc. tells THEM to stop. LOL

  17. MashaFan

    Masha's shriek is music to my ears – *lol* – It gives the match more energy and you often can tell by her shriek when she knows that she has hit an error or when she's made a winner – To watch a match with 2 completely silent players is boring – it's like looking at a silent b/w movie

    All you guys – who're complaining are just grumpy and old fashion – In many other power sports the athletes grunt or shriek to energize themselves – and tennis has – thanks to the William sisters and Masha – developed into a power sport

    Many men grunt as well – more or less loudly – Nadal at least does it pretty loud – it's only that his frequency is lower and "manly" and maybe therefor his grunts or shrieks seems less loud

  18. Marija Post author

    MashaFan, you mean Masha's matches you can also listen to on the radio and the others you can't? :)

  19. LankyDes

    Yes, Mashafan. I am grumpy and old fashioned. I still say thank you when people open doors for me. I still signal when I am turning left.I get grumpy when people don't acknowledge my giving way to them on the road when I don't have to and when people force me to stop at a roundabout because they haven't signalled. Manners are old fashioned . I feel sorry for you that you need screeming to make tennis interesting

  20. Diane

    So many people, including people commenting on this post, confused grunting with screaming. Grunting is a natural behavior that occurs when someone makes a huge physical effort. Telling people not to grunt is, in essence, telling them not to try so hard.

    I haven't figured out screaming yet, but it appears to be related to grunting. Very few players say it bothers them, so I assume it's not a big deal.

  21. usopenrockz

    Wow, sexist much? Have you watched Rafael Nadal? Nicolas Almagro? Fernando Gonzalez? Juan Martin del Potro? Jo-Wilfried Tsonga? Those guys can get LOUD. Strange though, it seems people like to focus on the women. Double standard??? And did you REALLY side with Azarenka, who has been known to shriek for so long, that she's STILL making noise when her opponent hits the ball?

    Go sit down.

  22. marine

    We're not sexist. And just so you know, this site is dedicated to WOMENS tennis only.

  23. hugoagogo

    It's not a matter of sexism.

    At the next tournament, both sexes, first game, every game, simply replay or dock points for every utterance over 45 DB.

    They'll very soon get the message and we (the paying public, viewers of advertising and consumers) will learn which of these spoilt harridans can play TENNIS.

  24. Stevo

    Ever since Monica Seles graduated from scream school in Florida tennis officials have been too weak to deal with this cheat tactic. The obvious answer now is that the tennis audience have to get involved and make something change. I suggest tennis fans should regularly yell and do loud imitation screams at key moments when the screamers are playing – especially at the start of their service action or just right before they reach a difficult return shot. This crowd noise should be a shared activity among dozens or fans or even sections of crowds and done in the right way so that useless tennis officials cannot quite tell where it came from or when.

  25. Bargearse

    I go to the Australian Open once in awhile and have seen some Sharapova matches on Rod Laver. Her loud shrieking is noticeable but not as annoying as it is on television. I find Azarenka worse but there is a new contender for the title of most annoying, loud shrieker/cheater – Bojana Jovanovski. Hope she doesn't become too successful or we'll have to hear more of her. She sounds like she is sneezing every time she hits the ball.

  26. Bruce

    Get the banshee shriekers out of tennis. As soon as I hear this with women's tennis, I switch to something else. I'm sure there are hundreds of thousands like me. Sponsors will take note and withdraw their support as soon as factual numbers come in to support my claim. WTF act now.

  27. Brad

    It started with Seles. It's the most rude part of women's tennis. I think screamers need to get a (sex) life.

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