(Author’s note: This column was written BEFORE I traveled to Cincinnati where I met Victoria Azarenka and found her to be a very nice…if “loud” individual who wished me a Happy Birthday and made my trip worthwhile. Vika, you ROCK!)
It is the most annoying sound in sports history. It is worse the harsh tone of the shot clock buzzer that grates on my auditory nerve. It is more irksome than the timbre of the late Howard Cosell’s cadence and it is more irritating than the South African Vuvuzelas that are trumpeted proudly during the World Cup.
It is the ear-splitting grunt made by Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka every time they hit a tennis ball.
If you haven’t heard it, then consider yourself lucky but if you have, then you feel my pain. It’s not the kind of vocalization born out of fatigue during an extended rally and emitted by the likes of Serena Williams and other top ceded players, but a 101 decibel, high-pitched “Whooo” that is so much a part of every tournament it might as well be featured on the Grand Slam soundtrack.
From the start of the French Open, through the fortnight of Wimbledon and into the US Open in New York, I can count on my summer being peppered with a litany of one-note chants that sound like a novena to the patron saint of tennis. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if it was only one player that does this but when it is two top-caliber athletes who are constantly featured on televised matches, it’s a little overwhelming. My biggest fear is that they will end up playing each other in the Gold Medal match at the next Olympics and I will have to listen to them in stereo.
Don’t get me wrong. I know they are not the only ones who do it (right, Venus?) and I understand that these matches can be long and intense. I don’t have a problem with the occasional utterance, but this is something different. It is a noise designed to psych out the opponent, mask the sound of the ball being hit and evidently cause the viewing audience at home to go stir crazy. Sometimes Sharapova even waits to do it until after she hits the ball, which in my opinion, defeats the purpose and only makes her sound like a Gibbon at the zoo.
It’s gotten so bad for me at times that I have literally caught myself typing to the beat. (In fact, if I were being honest with you…I’m doing it right now.) Bounce, hit, “Whoo”…Bounce, hit…Bounce, hit, “Whoo”…Bounce, hit…you get the idea. I am not kidding when I say that it takes 30 minutes after a match is over before that sound leaves my brain. Unfortunately I only have a brief reprieve before the next “Whoo girl” hits the court.
I suppose I could hit the mute button, but why should I? I like to listen to former greats like John McEnroe, Chris Everett and Martina Navratilova commentate the matches, and quite frankly, I’ve been watching tennis longer than these girls have been alive so I’m pulling rank on this one.
Lest you all think I am crazy, I’ll have you know that I am not the only person who’s noticed a problem. Last year, there was a concerted effort by the Women’s Tennis Association to crack down on the un-ladylike cacophony (kind of ironic for an organization founded by feminist Billie Jean King) but I guess Maria and Victoria were grandfathered in on the old system. Still, I would think that they could do something to curtail it a little. I mean come on gals, if you are already one of the best players in the world, do you really need it? I’m sure that there is a 12-step program for “heavy grunters” out there and if not, maybe you could be pioneers in the field. Just remember, the first step is admitting you have a problem.
For everything else, there’s duct tape.