Once again grunting is an issue in women's tennis, thanks to the unworldly sound emitted by a 16-year-old Portuguese player, one Michelle Larcher de Brito.
Opponents have whined that this is distracting, which has, in the past, been a familiar complaint lodged against other female players, most recently Maria Sharapova, and before her, Monica Seles.
I've never understood why these high-pitched sounds are called grunts. I always thought grunts were deep and guttural. Senorita Larcher de Brito is more of a shrieker, wouldn't you say? Actually, I always thought the best grunter of all was a Romanian player named Virginia Ruzici of the 1970s whose shriek reminded one and all, vicariously, of ecstasy.
Of course, what's the matter with a spot of noise in tennis? Or golf, for that matter? Why does everybody have to hush up to let an athlete serve a fuzzy ball all by himself or to address a small, dimpled one lying motionless in the grass ... when someone like a baseball batter is expected to be able to concentrate sufficiently amid a roaring din, able to hit a curved spheroid thrown toward him at 90 miles an hour?
Of course, games played by individuals never produce the fervor of team sports. Good grief, team sports have yell leaders whose very purpose is to encourage commotion.
Chants have become more common at our stadiums and arenas recently; often, I'm sorry to say, of a downright vulgar nature. But the fans at Fenway Park seem to be the most original, with a particularly miraculous capacity to suddenly engage the whole throng in cadence. A couple weeks ago, as Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees took to the plate, suddenly this vocal rolling thunder arose and spread throughout Fenway, louder and louder: "You do steroids! You do steroids!"
At the other extreme, the unnatural enforced silence for the poor golf fans has robbed them, in particular, of all original expression. All we ever hear after a ball is struck is either: "You da man!" Or: "In da hole!" It's really embarrassing for golf.
Give me a good grunt on the tennis court any day, even if it isn't really a grunt. Listen, I may not remember much about the sounds of sport of 30 years ago, but the sensual cries of the long-forgotten Virginia Ruzici still sound like music to my ears. And at Wimbledon Monday, Larcher de Brito vehemently declared, "Nobody can tell me to stop grunting." As they say on the links: You da girl.
Commentator Frank Deford weighs in from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Conn.