Agnieszka Radwanska has criticized Maria Sharapova for grunting during matches
World No. 4 Sharapova has defended the noises, saying they are not against the rules
The WTA is attempting to coach grunting out of the next generation of talent
Victoria Azarenka's shrieks were immitated by the crowd at the Australian Open
It is a noise that has become synonymous with watching top-level tennis – the sound of ear-splitting shrieks and grunts as star players battle against each other in a bid to claim the sport’s biggest prizes.
The yelps of three-time grand slam champion Maria Sharapova and world No. 3 Victoria Azarenka have been the source of much conversation this week at the Australian Open in Melbourne – the year’s first grand slam.
It might reach a crescendo on Saturday when they meet in the women’s final, with the No. 1 ranking also at stake.
“About Maria, I mean, what can I say?” said eighth seed Agnieszka Radwanska in a press conference following her quarterfinal defeat to Belarus’ Azarenka on Tuesday.
“For sure that is pretty annoying and it’s just too loud.”
Throughout her career – which has included reaching No. 1 in the world, a breakthrough win aged 17 at Wimbledon in 2004 and two further grand slam titles – Sharapova has been renowned for the volume of her on-court vocalizations.
“I’ve heard it a few times over my career,” the 24-year-old Russian said. “You’ve watched me grow up, you’ve watched me play tennis.
“I’ve been the same over the course of my career. No one important enough has told me to change or do something different.
“Right now there is no rule change. I don’t hear that there will be one, so it doesn’t really matter what my answer would be, would it?”
At present, there are no WTA Tour rules which directly prohibit grunting. Female tennis’ governing body does, however, have regulations which outlaw hindrances.
An involuntary hindrance would cover a player’s hat falling off, or a ball rolling from their pocket. In this instance, a let is called and the point is replayed. Any hindrance deemed deliberate by the umpire would result in the loss of a point.
Although the issue of grunting is not mentioned in the International Tennis Federation’s 2012 rulebook, the WTA explained how they are attempting to coach the trait out of the next generation of players.
“Everyone who watches tennis knows grunting is a part of the game, and we are aware that some fans find it bothersome,” read a WTA statement.
“We are currently in the process of exploring how to reduce excessive grunting, especially for younger players just starting out, without adversely affecting players who have developed their game under the current training
“We do believe that we need to address the concerns expressed by some fans and take a careful look at our rules and education policies.”
Switzerland’s Martina Hingis retired in 2007 after a 13-year playing career which saw her claim five grand slam titles, including three successive Australian Open triumphs between 1997 and 1999.
The former world No. 1, who is playing in the senior’s event in Melbourne, said the noises were more irksome for fans and viewers and largely go unnoticed by players.
But Hingis did admit to being baffled by some of the noises coming from the opposite end of the court.
“It’s just sometimes when they were stretching a little bit more, you’re like: ‘What are you doing?’ The more they had to stretch the louder it got,” the 31-year-old explained.
“Or sometimes it’s like a heavy grunt and it’s on the service line and the ball doesn’t have any weight on it. But I think it’s more of an issue with the spectators.”
Due to the volume and unique nature of world No. 3 Azarenka’s screams, the Rod Laver Arena crowd took to mimicking her during a second round win over Australian Casey Dellacqua.
“Of course I hear it. I mean, I’m not deaf,” the 22-year-old joked. “But it’s fine for me. I mean, I respect the crowd, whatever they do. I try to just be focused on my game.”
So, with the WTA focused on coaching grunting out of the next generation of talent, it looks as if opponents of Sharapova and Azarenka will have to put up with the deafening screams for the foreseeable future.
Or start wearing ear plugs…