Wimbeldon Head: No Grunting, Please. We’re British

Wimbeldon Head: No Grunting, Please. We’re British June 22, 2011

At the foot of the foul line.

The chief executive of the All England Lawn and Tennis Club wants Wimbeldon competitors to grunt more daintily, if they must grunt at all. According to the Daily Telegraph:

He blamed younger players, whom he said suffered from an “education problem” about the issue.

On the first day of the SW19 championships, Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, a player often criticised for her wails, edged towards record noise levels as she made her debut on Court No 2.

“We are one tournament in a global circuit. But we have made our views clear and we would like to see less of it.”

The loudest known grunt came from Maria Sharapova, who sent the sound monitor into new realms with a recording of 105 decibels in 2009.

Mr Ritchie added: “I think there is an education problem with younger players. And certainly my postbag, if you say ‘what do you get most letters about’, I would say that grunting is high up.

“So we are aware, whether you are watching it on TV or here, people don’t particularly like it.”

In a wide-ranging interview with The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, Mr Ritchie also
Noise machines recorded her reach a level of 95 decibels as she shrieked her way through the first round match against Slovakia’s Magdalena Rybarikova.

Spectators looked on amused, not only at the volume but also the length of her roars, which exceeded 1.5 seconds almost every time she hit the ball before play was suspended due to rain.

Mr Ritchie, a former television and news agency executive, admitted that officials would “prefer to see less grunting”.

“The players have an ability to complain about it, if one player is grunting too much and the other player doesn’t like it and it is distracting, they can complain to the umpire,” he said

“We have discussed it with the tours and we believe it is helpful to reduce the amount of grunting.”

Speaking as one with more than a passing knowledge of Slavic women, I must say, this grunting epidemic surprises me — but then, I’ve never played tennis with one. If anything, I would have thought grunting a Jewish thing. In Born to Kvetch, Michael Wex reveals the etymology of kvetshn, usually rendered as “to complain,” but which has a more colorful, more visceral origin:

Yet the enttry for kvetshn, the verbal form, in Uriel Weinreich’s Modern English-Yiddish-Yiddish English Dictionary, reads simply: “press, squeeeze, pinch; strain.” There is no mention of grumbling or complaint. You can kvetch an orange for juice, kvetch a buzzer for service, or kvetsh mit pleytses, shrug your shoulders, when no one responds to the buzzer you kvetched. All perfectly good, perfectly common uses of kvetshn, none of which appears to have the remotest connection to whining or complaining. The link is found in Weinreich’s “strain,” which he uses to define kvetshn zikh, to squeeze oneself, the reflexive form of the verb. Alexander Harkavy’s 1928 Yiddish-English-Hebrew Dictionary helps make Weinreich’s meaning clearer. It isn’t simply to strain, but “to strain,” as Harkavy has it, “at stool,” to have trouble doing what, if you’d eaten your prunes the way you were supposed to, you wouldn’t have any trouble with at all.

Wex sums it up: “someone who’s kvetching sounds like someone who’s paying the price for not having taken his castor oil — and he has just as eager an audience.”

Me, I have yet to find any spiritual significance in grunting, on or off the tennis court. But one fan reaction to a tennis match has haunted me every Good Friday since I began my catechesis. The match took place sometime in the mid-1990s between Boris Becker and Pete Sampras. It could have been at Wimbeldon, but then, it could have been at Flushing Meadows — that part escapes my memory. So, for that matter, does the final score. All I can remember is that Sampras, in his unsweating, arrogant way, was grinding Becker down game by game, set by set. It went like the first Creed-Balboa fight: Becker battled heroically, and for a moment or two actually seemed to have Sampras in distress. But the outcome was never really in doubt, even if it seemed horribly unjust.

It also seemed horribly unjust to Barbara, Becker’s wife. Often during the match, the camera would cut away from the action to her reaction, which was one of the bleakest horror. Holding her pretty head in both her slender hands, she sat slack-jawed, her eyes as big as Wilson tennis balls. She made such a perfect representation of the helpless onlooker to tragedy or villainy that she beggared my power fpr metaphor.

During Holy Week, 2007, in the middle of an RCIA class, Frau Becker’s face swam back into my memory. Suddenly, I knew exactly what she looked like: one of the women at the foot of the Cross. Since then, her stricken look has helped put me in the headspace of the Three Marys, and helped me apprecate just how lousy a day that must have been for all concerned.

Of course, Frau Becker, stoical Hun that she is, was silent. The women of Jerusalem seem to have been keening, like Irishwomen. But what about the Three Marys? How did they sound? Perhaps, in deference to the All England Lawn and Tennis Club, it’s best not to kvetsh our imaginations too hard for an answer.

"Saint Joseph of Cupertino.'Nuff said."

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