the grunters


In 2005, Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova met in the Wimbledon semifinals, where they played a tough two-set match that Williams won. It was hard-fought and entertaining, and had another distinction as well – it was unprecedentedly loud. By the end of the second set, both women were hitting groundstrokes with tremendous pace, impossible accuracy, and amazing noise. If you turned your back to the television, you might have imagined that NBC was broadcasting not a match on the All-England Club’s hallowed Centre Court, but a particularly long street fight. The rise of grunting in tennis has become one of the most curious sideshows in the sports world. Baseball has steroids. Football has head trauma and Terrell Owens. Tennis has this. The controversy over grunting is reaching maximum interest this week because of Michelle Larcher de Brito, the 16-year-old from Portugal who made a lot of noise at last month’s French Open with both her tennis and her grunt. There has never been one quite like it – a violent squeal released with every stroke, which, at peak intensity, sounds like she’s in pain, ecstasy, or trouble. The complaints about her in France have put pressure on officials in England, where Wimbledon begins tomorrow. The tournament is considering a crackdown: officially, the offense would be called a “noise hindrance,” and if an umpire declares a grunt too loud, the offender could be charged a point.

more from Wesley Morris at the Boston Globe here.