Grunts, Screams And Other Noises From Tennis Guest host Alison Stewart speaks to writer and New York Times tennis blogger Jon Wertheim about Portuguese tennis player Michelle Larcher de Brito, the noises she makes, and the wide world of tennis grunting.
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Grunts, Screams And Other Noises From Tennis

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Grunts, Screams And Other Noises From Tennis

Grunts, Screams And Other Noises From Tennis

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Monica Seles was known for it.

(Soundbite of grunting tennis player)

STEWART: Maria Sharapova pumped up the volume as well.

(Soundbite of screaming tennis player)

STEWART: And now tennis has a new reigning court caterwauler in 16-year-old Portuguese tennis player Michelle Larcher de Brito.

(Soundbite of screaming tennis player)

STEWART: I hope she's okay.

During this month's French Open, Ms. De Brito's screeches drew so many complaints that the International Tennis Federation is now considering taking action.

Joining us from New York to talk about all the grunting going on is Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim, who has just blogged on this very topic. Hi, John.

Mr. JOHN WERTHEIM (Sports Illustrated): How are you?

STEWART: Compared to Ms. De Brito's grunts, Monica Seles sounds like a church mouse. What's going on here? What's changed?

Mr. WERTHEIM: You know, it's really this battle. Is this part of the exertion of hitting a tennis ball, or is this a tactic, or is this something to distract your opponent? And you know, what's disappointing is some teachers are even tutoring their students, you know, this is like the ki-ya in martial arts. I mean it sounds just absolutely hideous. And I think if it's just, a mannerism is one thing, but clearly other players are distracted and I think that's why we're seeing this crackdown, discipline.

STEWART: Is there currently a loud male grunter out there, or is there a little bit of possible sexism going on here with the ladies shouldn't be grunting camp?

Mr. WERTHEIM: I mean honestly, I think that's a large part of this. If this were 17-year-old boys and not 17-year-old girls, would we be quite so offended? And you know, especially funny at Wimbledon, you sort of have this Victorian veneer and all this tradition, and then this is obviously in contrast to that. Someone wrote it sounded like a bordello on the night the fleet came in.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WERTHEIM: I mean there is like a gender - I definitely think there's a gender component to this.

STEWART: Can you explain ways the grunting really might affect the opponent, aside from just being annoying or being a little distracting?

Mr. WERTHEIM: Yeah, the opponent in tennis listens to the ball leaving the racket. Obviously you're watching the ball or you're doing 60 things at once. But you also can tell by the way the ball leaves the racket whether it's a slice, whether it's hit with an abundance of spin, and if that sound is being blocked out, in theory it could be a real disadvantage to the opponent.

STEWART: Before I let you go, I have to ask you about something that's not really a grunt. It's more of a groan: Rafael Nadal - not going to be at Wimbledon?

Mr. WERTHEIM: Yeah, that's unfortunate. He had played that tremendous match with Federer last year and a lot of people were sort of gearing up for another version of that. And he's come down with tendonitis in both knees and lost in the French Open. You could really see he wasn't a hundred percent. I think along with grunting, that unfortunately is the first week's story.

But in the spirit of British weather, there's some silver lining on that cloud. And it's that Andy Murray, the British player, is now the highest seed left in his draw. So Nadal is out, but if we get a homegrown British champion or a British player making the final, in a way this will be a disguised blessing.

STEWART: John Wertheim is the author of "Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played."

Thanks for being with us, John.

Mr. WERTHEIM: Thanks. Fun.

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