Yes, once again grunting is an issue in women's tennis, thanks to the loud, unbecoming sound emitted by a 16-year-old Portuguese player, one Michelle Larcher de Brito whenever she strikes a ball.
Opponents have whined that this is distracting, which has, in the past, been a familiar complaint lodged against other female players -- most recently Maria Sharapova, and before her, Monica Seles.
Actually, I've never understood why these high-pitched sounds are called grunts. I always thought grunts were deep and guttural, sounding, well, like "grunt." Senhorita Larcher de Brito is more of a shrieker, as was Ms. Sharapova. And, for those connoisseurs of the art, Ms. Seles hit her shots with a double-barrelled wail. Sort of: ee-ee. Actually, I always thought the best grunter of all was a Romanian player named Virginia Ruzici, of the 1970s, whose shriek reminded one and all, vicariously, of ecstasy.
Of course, whatever the tone, the complaints raise the question: what's the matter with a spot of noise in tennis? Or golf, for that matter? Why does everybody have to hush up to let an athlete serve a fuzzy ball all by herself or to address a small, dimpled one lying motionless in the grass . . . when someone like a baseball batter is expected to be able to concentrate sufficiently amidst a roaring din, able to hit a curved spheroid thrown toward him at 90-some miles an hour?
I suppose it's because tennis and golf were first played by gentlemen and ladies where decorum was to be preserved. And, of course, games played by individuals never produce the fervor of team sports. Good grief, team sports have yell leaders whose very purpose is to encourage commotion. At football games, it's even considered quite cricket to try and make such a racket that the visiting team can't hear the quarterback's signals.
Chants are common in soccer round the world and have become more common at our own stadiums and arenas recently -- often, I'm sorry to say, of a downright vulgar nature. But the fans at Fenway Park seem to be the most original, with a particularly miraculous capacity to suddenly engage the whole throng in cadence. A couple of weeks ago, as Alex Rodriquez of the Yankees took to the plate, suddenly this vocal rolling thunder arose and spread throughout Fenway, louder and louder: "You do steroids! You do steroids! You do steroids!"
At the other extreme, the unnatural enforced silence for the poor golf fans has robbed them, in particular, of all original expression. As we had to suffer once again, this past week, at the U.S. Open,
All we ever hear in golf after a ball is struck is either: "You da man!" Or: "In da hole." It's really embarrassing for golf that the sport's fans are so lacking in originality.
Give me a good grunt on the tennis court any day, even if it isn't really a grunt. Listen, I may not remember much about the sounds of sport of thirty years ago, but the sensual cries of the long-forgotten Ruzici still sound like music to my ears. Ah, and at Wimbledon Monday, young Michelle Larcher de Brito defiantly declared: "Nobody can tell me to stop grunting!"
Hey, as they say on the links: "You da girl!"