"Grunting" Controversy Continues On Wimbledon's Opening DayS

Michelle Larcher de Brito beat Klara Zakopalova today in the first round at Wimbledon, but among spectators there was more discussion of her "grunting" than her tennis game.

According to The Guardian, Larcher de Brito's grunting seemed "curiously subdued" and at a press conference after the match, she confirmed that Wimbledon officials told her she could be fined for making excessive noises. "I tried to quieten things down for you guys today," said Larcher de Brito, adding that she would rather take a fine than stop grunting completely. "If my body feels like it needs to grunt more, it grunts. If not, it stays quiet," she said.

Earlier in the day, in her first round victory over Viktoriya Kutuzova, Maria Sharapova refused to tone herself down. The Guardian reports:

As a side-show to the actual tennis, we have quite the grunting contest developing between Sharapova and Kutuzova on Court one. Kutuzova's is a little deeper - almost like she's trying to shout the word 'pow' each time she hits it, whereas Sharapova is getting a little hoarse.

Nick Bollettieri, who has coached many of tennis' greatest, and most notoriously noisy players, including Shrapova and Larcher de Brito weighed in on the controversy today in his daily Wimbledon column in The Independent. Bollettieri says that a series of graduating penalties ranging from the loss of a point to the loss of a match should be implemented to cut down on excessive grunting. However, he adds:

I have never taught anyone to grunt. It's just not part of the coaching regime at my academy.

Grunting on the courts may be a lot of things, including annoying, but it certainly isn't cheating, since it's been done under the watchful eyes (and ears) of umpires for decades with few complaints and fewer sanctions.

Three of the top female players of all time – Monica Seles, Serena Williams, and Maria Sharapova - have all been associated with making noise when making impact with the ball.

But to suggest that these women (all of whom, by the way, have trained at my academy) have cheated their way to 32 Grand Slam championships and more than 100 titles is offensive – and wrong.

On Saturday night, former Wimbledon champion Michael Stich, who is now a BBC Radio commenter, angered many people by claiming that the role of female tennis players is as much about "selling sex" as their physical ability, the Daily Mail reports. He suggested the best way to reduce the amount of grunting in women's tennis is to, "Just play it back to the women. It sounds disgusting, ugly, unsexy!"

According to the Mail:

When challenged that it was the women's role to play the best tennis they could, rather than look sexy, Stich stuck to his guns. ‘That's what they sell,' he told The Mail on Sunday.

‘They want to look good, they pay attention to their looks and everything.'

He then joked that the only way to make sure female players stop grunting is to "shoot them." Stich now claims that his comments were taken out of context.

Sexist comments aside, what may actually put an end to the grunting is a meeting of the Grand Slam Committee scheduled to take place at Wimbledon this week. An anonymous spokesman for the International Tennis Federation told Time that, "In light of the controversy at The French Open, the Grand Slam Committee will be meeting to see if anything can be done to make enforcement [of grunting] more official and explicit."

Since the committee, which sets the rules for tennis' four major events, releases a new rulebook annually, any restriction on grunting wouldn't come into effect until 2010.

Wimbledon 2009 — Day One Live! [The Guardian]
Coaching Report: Grunting [The Independent]
Wimbledon Girls Are "Just There To Sell Sex", Says BBC Pundit Michael Stich [The Daily Mail]
Ex-Wimbeldon Champion Says Players Are Just "Selling Sex" [Bild.com]
Quiet, Please: Tennis Pros May Have To Give Up The Grunt [Time]

Earlier: Female Tennis Players Faking It Like Meg Ryan