The crowd is supposed to keep quiet so they don't distract the players. But it was the spectators who were calling for quiet at yesterday's Australian Open final, which had been billed as the loudest in women's tennis.
Much of the pre-match talk ahead of the clash between Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, infamous as two of the game's biggest grunters, centred not on the power of their ground strokes but the power of their shrieks. And, in that sense, the encounter lived up to its billing: one fan, who had obviously failed to take precautions in the form of earplugs, shouted, "Turn the volume down!", in the second game of the match. Others in Rod Laver Arena could be heard muttering at the loud screams. The on-court roaring peaked at 94.3 decibels – a level at which sustained exposure can result in hearing loss.
Punters in the UK hoping to make money out of the women's vocal performances bet nearly £10,000 with Ladbrokes. The company offered odds on the players receiving an official warning, being docked a point, or disqualified.
However, punters were left out of pocket. David Williams, a spokesman for Ladbrokes, said those betting "anticipated a little bit more noise than they actually got". He claimed the sideshow of grunting had become "part of the betting staple" for women's tennis after being introduced as a bit of fun four or five years ago.
"These are two of the most prolific grunters in sports history," said Mr Williams of yesterday's final. "Sharapova has always been the queen of the grunt, but Azarenka is the lady-in-waiting."
The Russian Sharapova, 24, whose grunt has reached an ear-splitting 105 decibels in the past, hit 98 decibels during the tournament. In comparison, Azarenka, who has previously reached 95 decibels, apparently hit 91.4.
But it was Azarenka who won the match, 6- 3, 6-0 – her first Grand Slam title – moving up the world rankings to the number one slot.
Besides the spectators' comments, there was a lot of noise about grunting, with the BBC tennis commentator John Lloyd calling for it to be "stamped out". Another player, Agnieszka Radwanska, said that while she was used to Azarenka's noises, Sharapova's grunt was "just too loud". And the Women's Tennis Association announced it was exploring how to reduce excessive grunting, especially among younger players just starting out.