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The 'grunt' factor in women's tennis

Last updated on: July 2, 2009 
Michelle Larcher de Brito

It is said that you know it is Wimbledon when another grunting article comes out.

This year it is no different.

Among the four semi-finalists in the women's singles at Wimbledon 2009, three belong to this list.

The fourth one is on her way to join them.

And it is by no means an enviable list. In fact, it is distracting.

The rise of grunting in women's tennis has become one of the biggest distractions in the game.

The Williams' sisters - Venus and Serena - and Elena Dementieva are among the top 10 grunters in the women's game and Dinara Safina isn't far behind either.

Portuguese teenager Michelle Larcher de Brito (pictured), who deafened French Open fans with an array of sounds usually heard in a hospital maternity ward, had quietened down for her trip to southwest London.

Expecting to need industrial ear plugs, the fans who packed out court 12 to see the 16-year-old were disappointed at the start of the match with the new subdued version but finally got a taste of what all the fuss had been about in the second set.

The more she had to fight to stay in the match,  the louder she got and the longer the cries of anguish lasted.

Larcher de Brito was beaten 7-6, 7-6 by Italian Francesca Schiavone, who made plenty of racket of her own to ensure the debate over decibel levels will continue into the third round.

So much so that the officials at the Big W considered a crackdown, deliberating on terming the offence a 'noise hindrance' and if an umpire declares a grunt too loud, the offender could be charged a point.

However, the problem is getting worse with each passing day and there are no signs of a solution.

As the decibel levels at the All England Club keeps increasing, takes a look at the top 10 grunters in women's tennis and the intensity with which they contest this 'gruntakshari.'

'I try to control but it's just a mouth'

Last updated on: July 2, 2009 
Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova (Russia)

Intensity: 101 decibels

At 101 decibels, the three time major champion is judged the loudest grunter in women's tennis so far.

At the 2005 Wimbledon, Sharapova, then the defending champion shattered her own personal record with a grunt of 101.2db - almost as loud as a police siren heard at close-quarters.

However, the Russian denies that it is a tactical move to put off opponents and insists it is simply a natural release of pent-up energy as the ball is hit.

"I try not to make noise, but it's just something I've been doing all my life since I've been playing tennis," Sharapova argued once.

"It's something that I try to control but my mouth doesn't control the way I play. It's just a mouth."

The inspiration

Last updated on: July 2, 2009 
Monica Seles

Monica Seles (US)

Intensity: 93.2 decibels

It was Monica Seles who originally inspired the "gruntometer."

The Yugoslav-turned-American's trademark was a loud grunt each time she belted the ball across the net.

Seles registered 93.2 decibels at Wimbledon in 1992 and the intensity was such that her opponents apparently demanded that she not be allowed to make noise.

Seles listened to all of those criticizing her grunt and played a grunt-less Wimbledon final against Steffi Graf.

After Seles was thumped, winning only three games, many speculated it was because she was concentrating too hard on being quiet.

Arguably Seles is the formative influence for the grunters in contemporary tennis.

'I loved the Seles grunt'

Last updated on: July 2, 2009 
Serena Williams

Serena Williams (USA)

Intensity: 88.9 decibels

When Serena Williams was once asked about her trademark grunt in an interview her reply was nonchalant.

"Uhm, I grunt I don't know. I just, honestly, when I was younger I used to love Monica Seles, she was like my role model. I loved her game. I loved her grunt," the American explained.

"So my grunt is kind of like hers a little bit where it's like a double grunt, instead of just like one long one, it's like two of them.

"I don't know why I grunt. Grunting actually is a way of breathing. That's how I'm breathing out instead of going... I'm actually grunting to get the air out."

It is also said that she was once playfully teased with repeated recordings of her on-court grunt during another interview.

A taste of her own medicine

Last updated on: July 2, 2009 
Lindsay Davenport

Lindsay Davenport (USA)

Intensity: 88 decibels

The 1999 champion could attribute part of her success to a grunt that had the ability to deafen her opponents.

It was sheer irony that last year, when the American was making a comeback on the tour, she had a taste of her own medicine.

During her match against Maria Sharapova, an unusually silent Davenport was overwhelmed by a grunting, stiff-backed Russian.

She went on to lose the match.

That Williams' grunt

Last updated on: July 2, 2009 
Venus Williams

Venus Williams (USA)

Intensity: 85 decibels

You can tell Venus Williams is looking to get things pumping when she's brought out the Williams grunt.

Her five titles at the All England Club are a testimony of her grunting abilities, besides her talent of course.

And her final battles at the Big W with sister Serena have been huge 'grunt-fests' besides being quality matches.

Respect players who grunt

Last updated on: July 2, 2009 
Victoria Azarenka

Victoria Azarenka (Belarus)

Intensity: 83.5 decibels

She wants to be left in peace but her grunt does disturbs other's paece.

Victoria Azarenka turned up the volume on the Wimbledon noise saga calling for people to respect grunters after the crowd mimicked her wails.

The eighth-seeded Belarussian said nearly three-quarters of women on the tour screamed, squealed or squawked during matches and that the sound effects were here to stay.

"People can do whatever they want but I hope they can respect all the players who grunt, which are about 70 percent of the whole tour," she was quoted as saying.

"I have been doing it since I was 10 years old. I wasn't really strong and that was what helped me to accelerate more, to put more power to the ball.

"I cannot change it, that's what helps me to play. I have to keep going with the thing that helps me play."

It is a grunt analysis after all

Last updated on: July 2, 2009 
Elena Bovina

Elena Bovina (Russia)

Intensity: 81 decibels

She is in this list thanks to hher grunting ability.

Had it been a list regarding achievements in tennis her name wouldn't featured at all.

The Russian grunts, groans and moans her way through points and matches, the rresults notwithstanding.

Always in the news

Last updated on: July 2, 2009 
Anna Kournikova

Anna Kournikova (Russia)

Intensity: 78.5 decibels

Kournikova has not played on the WTA Tour since 2003.

But prior to that she made the headlines more for her off-the-court achievements and on-the-court grunting rather than any significant win.

Now as she moves to the role of a motivator, working with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, one just hopes the  youngsters don't get motivated by her grunts.

Mulling a comeback

Last updated on: July 2, 2009 
Kim Clijsters

Kim Clijsters (Belgium)

Intensity: 75 decibels

The Belgian is mulling a comeback and it remains to be seen if she returns with the same intensity as regards her game and her grunts.

And if the grunt factor is back then it will be certainly to her advantage.

When grunt is an indicator

Last updated on: July 2, 2009 
Elena Dementieva

Elena Dementieva (Russia)

Intensity: 73 decibels

It is said that Dementieva's semi grunt usually indicates her fans and rivals that she's finding her feet.

The Russian Olympic champion has adopted a double-bang grunt, 'oooaah- urrrring', on every shot, whether a great effort was expended or not.

More importantly, it works to her advantage in most cases.