Shush the Shrieking
High pitched shrieking in tennis has become some what of a norm in female matches, much to the dissent of the public. But is this shrieking as innocent as it seems, or a calculated tactic to throw the opponent off? Amelia McGuinness reports.
When the audience learned of an Australian Open final between two of the biggest female “shriekers” in tennis, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, they braced themselves with the shelter of quick access to their mute buttons. It was no secret that fans found it vexing. Channel Seven used the complaints to their advantage, mocking the players with a “shriek meter”; a measurement of the volume of female tennis players’ shrieks during a match, which was displayed on television screens.
The issue of “shrieking” in women’s tennis was as discussed as the 6-hour long final between Nadal and Djokovic, but the issue, which has forever been part of the game and a minor problem for tennis players, has become more of a case of audiences being unable to cope with female athletes making noise.
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) proposed implementing new laws to silence tennis players with the disclosure that, “Everyone who watches tennis knows grunting is a part of the game, and we are aware that some fans find it bothersome.” The WTA were said to be exploring how to address the problem, but Sharapova made the comment that “no one important enough” had told her to silence the squeals. The WTA’s intention was to eradicate the shrieks from a young age, so as to cease the trend of players making loud noises in matches, but their aim focused considerably more on pressure made by fans than by the players themselves.
However, there is an argument that players purposely make loud noises to distract their opponents. Peter Terrey, Professor of Psychology at the University of Southern Queensland, believes that the shrieking is a tactic often used with this intent in mind.
“From the perspective of the person on the other end, they see it differently generally, that it is something of a distraction, that it also masks the sound of the ball on the racket and that’s important information. It is somewhat of an intimidation and it doesn’t fit easily within the framework of the rules,” he said.
There have been many reports of complaints against tennis players such as Agnieszka Radwanska describing Sharapova as “pretty annoying and just too loud” after losing to her in the quarter finals.
“If you keep winning, you don’t think about it. The moment you’re losing, it’s probably more distracting,” commented Martina Hingis, retired professional tennis player, highlighting that players are not as distracted by the shrieks as is commonly reported, but instead make excuses when they do not perform as well as they wished.
The WTA proposed to do something about the shrieks after the 2012 Australian Open, but it was media such as the BBC and Channel 7 that took initiatives to appeal to their audiences. Wimbledon in 2011 saw the introduction of a tool used by BBC radio called Wimbledon Net Mix, which allows internet users to turn down the shrieks and increase commentary volume, and the “shriek meter” on Channel 7 saw a mockery made of female tennis players who made too much noise. Such cases indicate the demand to please fans who cannot cope with the loud noises made by female athletes.
If players are bothered by their opponents’ noises, they are allowed to complain to the umpire, according to tennis rules. However, Stacey Allaster, chief executive of the WTA, remarked that, “I’ve not had one player come to me to complain about it. It’s not bothering the athletes. And we have a hindrance rule in place.”
Another issue at hand is that the growing aversion to female tennis matches is owing to their high pitch, feminine squeals. Male athletes such as Rafael Nadal make excessively loud noises, too, but because it is more of a grunting noise than a shriek, they do not bother the crowd as much as the women do. Professor Terrey believes that fans are not bothered by male tennis players’ groans because “the men don’t shriek…the decibels aren’t as high.”
Although any kind of noise is said to be a distraction to an opponent, and Nadal’s grunt is loud enough to mask the sound of the racket hitting the ball just as Sharapova’s shriek does, the crowd only responds harshly to female tennis players. At one stage Channel Seven’s shriek meter measured Sharapova at 96.9dB, about two decibels higher than the average volume of a chainsaw. Azarenka, who played Australian Casey Dellacqua in an early round, was taunted by fans throughout the match for her loud grunts.
“Of course I hear it. I mean, I’m not deaf,” Azarenka smiled, when asked if she had heard the gibes. “But it’s fine for me. I mean, I respect the crowd, whatever they do. I try to just be focused on my game.”