It’s a bit like Ted Nugent coming out in favor of gun control.
With the Women’s Tennis Association deliberating the idea of limits on how loud players can grunt during matches, tennis star Maria Sharapova—widely considered to be the loudest of them all—has come out in support of the idea.
(PHOTOS: The U.S. Open in Pictures)
Yes, it sounds like a strange thing for a sporting body to consider legislating. But it’s a big problem: Sharapova’s shouts, for example, have been measured at 101 decibels — on par with a chainsaw or a motorcycle, and a level at which sustained exposure can cause hearing loss. The four-time grand slam winner told Reuters her grunts were a habit formed when she first started playing tennis. But she agrees with the WTA that the grunting has gotten out of hand.
Other players have said that grunting causes a distraction on the court, and the Association is getting worried that spectators and the television audience are getting fed up. It now plans to arm on-court umpires with noise-level monitoring devices at youth tournaments to try to change players’ breathing techniques from a young age.
“Bottom line is, the right answer has been taken by the tour,” Sharapova told Reuters. “The WTA created a plan. That’s the smart way to go about it, rather than, like, taking someone’s forehand and grip in the middle of their career and telling them to change it.”
Some feel the restrictions should be enforced on the pro circuit as well. Top women’s player Caroline Wozniacki complained about excessive shouting to the WTA last year and tennis legend Martina Navratilova called the act “cheating, pure and simple,” Reuters reports.
For now, however, the WTA is focusing on the youth game, especially the famed Florida tennis academy run by Nick Bollettieri, where some of the game’s most famous grunters—Monica Seles, Sharapova, Serena Williams and Andre Agassi—all trained.
“Because when you start something from a young age and continue it, it’s a habit — whether you do grunt or don’t grunt,” Sharapova says.
The theory is that grunting allows an extra release of energy on a stroke, and there does appear to be some research that backs this up. However, it’s also likely that the sound itself merely intimidates and distracts a player’s opponent — in which case it’s easy to see why players are coming out against it. There’s research supporting that theory, too.
PHOTOS: Scenes from the Australian Open