Wednesday, July 1, 2009

To grunt or not to grunt

In light of my recent entries, I decided to write about something on a more lighter note.

Today's topic: grunting in women's tennis. Prior to the Wimbledon tournament, The All-England Tennis Club had thought about imposing a rule addressing the grunting that has become so prevalent in women's tennis. According to English sensibilities, it is unsportsmanlike and probably not feminine in appearance.

However, it all started with Monica Seles, whose shrills were a constant whenever you watched one of her matches. It became her trademark and it obviously helped her win major tournaments. Now everybody is doing it, including the dynamic Williams sisters. As fans of the sport in this generation, it has become routine, but now that there is discussion about it, people are actually admitting that the grunts and the shrieks really annoy them.

To me it is not as annoying as the "Wave" at football games or the constant horn blowing at the recent FIFA Confederation Cup in South Africa that made the broadcasts sound like covering an international hornets convention. It is gamesmanship, plain and simple. It is a distraction to the opponent, sometimes masking the sound of the ball on the racket, making it hard to return volley. (Note: according to the rules of tennis, you are not suppose to intentionally distract your opponent, but I have never heard an umpire take away a point at a major because of grunting.)

The question becomes do we want to take that aspect of gamesmanship away from the sport. I say no. Every sport has to have a gimmick, and I am glad there is a quirk that is marketable for a female sport that is not based on their looks. The WNBA and the LPGA are trying to make their athletes more feminine looking to better market the sport unashamedly. Tennis had that problem until the advent of Anna Kournikova, and even though she did not win a Grand Slam event, she transformed the sport image-wise.

So while the majority of the champions in the sport are easier on the eyes, it should be their talent and mastery of the sport that draws the attention of the casual fan. Thus I believe we should let the grunting stay in place. It is unique to tennis and if nothing else, it will keep you focused on those long matches, with every rally, every volley being punctuated.

It also gives the appearance that the athletes are focused for the entire match. Those of us who have followed football, baseball and basketball have always heard stories about athletes tuning out or losing focus in key moments of competition. It is nice to watch a sport where the participants are not sitting out a play, that their focus is razor-sharp, and it is strictly about execution.

As a true sports fan, that is what I want to see, maximum effort from the folks who are the best in the world. So ladies, as far as I am concerned, grunt away, and may the best woman win.