The Ladies Make Grunt Work of Tennis, But Could Be Increasing Their Net Worth

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Women’s professional tennis players are making a big noise these days — and it sounds like an animalistic grunt.

“At Wimbledon this year there is screeching on every single court, more so in the girls than the boys,” said Nick Bollettieri, founder of IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy and coach to such tennis greats as Andre Agassi and Venus and Serena Williams.

In the refined world of tennis, it’s unclear whether the grunting phenomenon — a result of releasing oxygen and tension from the body — is cathartic or strategic. “Some say that players do it to upset the opponent,” said Bollettieri. “I find that difficult,” he added.

Bollettieri told he certainly doesn’t teach his famous players like Maria Sharapova to grunt after they hit the ball. “They’ve got themselves into the habit; it just happens.”

The issue came to a head when Michelle Larcher de Brito sounded more like a police siren than a tennis player at a 2009 Wimbledon match, prompting the International Tennis Federation to consider banning grunts altogether.

So far there has been no such measure, as Victoria Azarenka brought more attention to her grunts than her game just last week at Wimbledon. According to former professional tennis player and ESPN tennis analyst, Pam Shriver, Azarenka’s opponent was returning the ball as Azarenka was only getting out the second or third syllable of her grunt.

“Most people find it really unattractive and distracting, it can disrupt the viewer,” Shriver said.
And, to Bollettieri, the shrieks can even disrupt match play on other courts.

Now a nuisance, the tennis grunt has been 20 years in the making. “I played during the [Monica] Seles era, and she was the first really big grunter,” said Shriver.

Maria Sharapova reignited the trend when she triumphed at Wimbledon in 2004 with her now-famous shriek, Shriver told

But according to Bob Dorfman, executive creative director at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco, the loud ladies may be grunting all the way to the bank. “They can use their grunting, it could be a fun way to market themselves,” he said. “Sharapova as a grunter can turn it into a clever advertising campaign.”

Exactly what the star did in a 2006 Nike commercial entitled, “I Feel Pretty.”

Dorfman told that the wailing women are simply feeding into their role as sex symbols, “In some sense, it [grunting] has some sexual overtones.”

“Female athletes are used for their sexuality a lot more than male athletes, that helps them becomes more marketable,” he said.

Anna Kournikova, a household name, who never won a grand slam, thrives in this role. “She was never terribly successful at the sport, [but] because she was so attractive she translated that to a very solid marketing career,” Dorfman said.

The grunts, according to Bollettieri, may not be silenced anytime soon. It’s up to the player to tell the chair umpire that the opponent’s noises are distracting. “Watching all the matches at Wimbledon, I’ve yet to see a player go up there and say something to the ref.”

“If the sport is going to step in and issue tougher sanctions, they need to start when players are juniors,” Shriver said.

Bollettieri told that installing meters that gauge the level of noise a player makes is another way to address the issue, but would be cumbersome. But he also says that grunting can amp up the action, “you don’t want mummies out there either.”

In the meantime, the match must go on, even if it’s loud.