The Daily Telegraph reported Wednesday that Ian Ritchie, chief executive of the All England Lawn and Tennis Club, which organizes Wimbledon, has requested that players stop grunting so much because fans “don’t particularly like it.” And maybe there have been a flood of complaint letters about the noise level on Wimbledon’s courts. But when Ritchie complains about “players” who grunt too loudly, it seems like his real problem is with women who are getting intense during their matches.
Even though Ritchie frames it as “an education problem with younger players,” the grunting controversy seems less like a matter of etiquette and more like a case of gender policing. Whether it’s Victoria Azarenka defending her grunting as an integral part of her play or complaints about Maria Sharapova’s 105-decible shriek, grunting apparently makes female players either shrill or worryingly unfeminine. It’s the same dilemma the Williams sisters have faced, whether they’re being excoriated for being overly muscled or for wearing things other than traditional tennis whites and adding makeup and jewelry to the mix.
And why should women change — especially if grunting helps them play better? Beyond interfering with opponent’s concentration and annoying Wimbledon officials, Alison McConnell, a professor at Brunel University, explains that there are actual physiological reasons grunting helps:
“We all instinctively inhale just before we make a physical effort such as lifting furniture or swinging a racquet at a ball. We do this because holding air in the lungs helps to provide the stability required for injury-free and forceful movements of the trunk.
Maximising the power of a tennis shot is created by transferring muscular force to the racquet head efficiently. A strong core and trunk is vital for this process because the force transmission starts below the players’ waist.”
Ritchie might as well be telling women that if they’re going to play on Wimbledon’s grass courts, being a lady is more important than being a competitor