Why's grunting bad? I love it

It was dubbed the "Battle of the Deci-belles", ridiculed as a "screamer of a match", and branded as "the loudest tennis match ever".

Last Saturday's Australian Open women's singles final between Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova saw a slugfest of blistering forehands, thunderous serves and constant grunting between two of the most "vocal" women's tennis players of this generation.

Azarenka, the eventual winner, emitted a high-pitched, ethereal howl whenever she hit the ball, while Sharapova - the original Queen of Grunts - punctuated every smack of the ball with a piercing shriek that got louder as she trailed further behind the Belarussian.

Is it a cacophony, or is it a symphony?

To many, it is unbearably noisy. It is also terribly un-feminine.

Women tennis players, as most of the Western media deem, must have the poise of a high-class Victorian-era lady and the gracefulness of a lithe ballet dancer.

Grunting? Horrors, how ugly and uncouth! The ladies should be taught a lesson in decency, some media scribes insist.

A few of the quieter players have also waded into the debate, grumbling about the loud grunts being a distraction to their play.

To which I say: What's the problem?

I love the grunting, and I'm not a pervert who gets a cheap thrill from the loud shrieks.

No, I love it because it embodies the gritty, never-say-die attitude that every tennis player should have.

In this punishing, exacting sport, it takes a dogged mentality to chase down every ball, to use every sinew of one's muscles, to take that extra step for the reward of a single point in a five-hour epic match.

There is no coach to spur you on in a match, no teammates to support you in times of intense physical and mental pressure.

So players have to dig deep to find their reserves of willpower, and grunting helps, vocalising their determination to succeed.

Sharapova has dealt with criticism of her grunts by ignoring every jibe, refusing to even entertain the thought of softening her shrieks.

I applaud her. Before her pretty looks catapulted her to superstardom, she was already a Wimbledon champion at 17 years old.

Think of the other pretty pin-up girls from before her time: Anna Kournikova, who could not land a title of significance, or Gabriela Sabatini, who retired abruptly after just one Grand Slam title.

Sharapova already has three Grand Slam wins, and her comeback from shoulder surgery is proof of her immense will to succeed, grunt-haters be damned.

Ditto Azarenka, whose loud grunts masked her mental brittleness until last Saturday, when she came of age in a confident display to win her first Grand Slam.

To complain about grunting smacks of a puritan attitude of trying to keep a decorum of eras past.

It is also chauvinistic. Why is nobody complaining about how loud Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal - two of the world's best men's players - are grunting?

In this modern age of tennis, let's not be too bothered by century-old sports decorum, and focus on how skilful and determined the current crop of stars are.

Accept the grunts, and eventually they will be music to your ears.

hankeong@sph.com.sg


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