Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, the two most notorious grunters in women's tennis, would no doubt have had wry smiles on their faces when they heard of Andy Murray's complaints about his opponent, Argentina's Carlos Berlocq, at the Indian Wells Masters.
Murray, who beat Berlocq 7-6, 6-4 to earn a quarter-final tomorrow night against Juan Martin del Potro, accused the world No 85 of gamesmanship, saying his grunting had been "extremely, extremely loud, more than I have experienced from any other player".
After Berlocq protested that Murray had been taking too long between points, the Scot complained to the umpire about the level of noise coming from his opponent's end of the court. Independent observers agreed that Berlocq's grunting was extremely loud.
"When you're doing it that loud, but you aren't doing that on every single shot, there is obviously a reason why you're grunting like that," Murray said afterwards. "It's making a noise when you're hitting the ball. It's annoying."
Murray, who said he had never complained about grunting before and had never previously thought it was an issue, added: "It's like sometimes silence and then it comes out of nowhere. It's a bit of a shock. So that's what I don't understand with it. To go from nothing to the loudest grunt you can do, it makes no sense."
Grunting has been an issue in the women's game ever since Monica Seles first groaned her way around the court. Wimbledon officials have made clear their displeasure at noise levels from women in the past and the Women's Tennis Association now teaches young players not to grunt.
Defenders of women's tennis have often pointed out that men also grunt. Jimmy Connors was regularly criticised for grunting, while Ivan Lendl, now Murray's coach, complained that he was put off by the noise Andre Agassi was making when they met at the US Open in 1988.
Murray himself can make some noise when he is being extended on court, though his grunting or groaning is not as loud or as regular as that of Rafael Nadal. Novak Djokovic, David Ferrer and Janko Tipsarevic can also raise the decibel levels on court, though the general consensus – certainly among critics of the women's game – is that men usually make a noise only as a result of great physical exertion. Most female grunters do so consistently through a match.
There are no rules that specifically outlaw grunting, though a section on "hindrance" says that if a player is hindered by noise from an opponent he or she should be awarded the point. Serena Williams fell foul of the rule during her defeat by Sam Stosur in the 2011 US Open final, when she was docked a point after shouting "Come on!" during the middle of a rally.
Roger Federer, for whom grunting appears to be as much a no-go area as sweating, said it was "important to respect the opponent as a player, so you shouldn't grunt too loud". The Swiss, due to meet Nadal in the quarter-finals in Indian Wells tonight, suggested that the Association of Tennis Professionals should speak to players about grunting "because they need to understand what the deal is".
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