Shriek cheats, the rebels yell
Sunday July 8, 2007
Now that the Belle of the Decibel has come and gone, we wonder how much damage has been done to eardrums of the Wimbledon faithful. You know who I'm talking about
: Maria Shriekapova. Since the gorgeous ex-champion is very young, a mere 20, and gaining in physical strength, should those of green persuasion be concerned that she may be spreading noise pollution during her world travels? According to our scientists on the job at that popular tropical rainforest of south-west London, the All England Club, Miss Shriekapova was clocked at 103.7 decibels at her utmost outcrying - surely a yell from hell.
This was a one-decibel increase on the Siberian Siren's best effort of 2006. While this vocal bombardment may seem a decibelly laugh to some of you, obviously you weren't present (or at tele-side) to be directly assaulted. On the other hand, hers must be recognised as an incredible human feat, the decibel equivalent of a pneumatic drill, but louder than a motorcycle or lawnmower. Since a count of 115 is the human pain threshold, could Sharapova be injurious to our health?
The Environmental Protection Act of 1990 covers all noises to do with leisure. Might Sharapova be served a notice for her screeching if a civil body decided there is a risk of permanent hearing loss if one is exposed to it for one minute? There's a possible fine. No more than £20,000, which she could handle with loose change from her biscuit jar.
If you heard a tape of her oral outbursts, you would ask whether the 2004 champion was in a bedchamber or a torture chamber. Which brings up another question: What's the matter with Justine?
This flyweight from Belgium, Justine Henin, marched to the semi-finals without vocal accompaniment. Golden silence. Quiet as a church mouse - and about the same size - she might be suffering from undeveloped vocal cords. How can Henin get away with number-one performances mutely in this Age of Noise without so much as a burp?
Monica Seles, the Godmother of Grunt, couldn't have been great without deep throaty excesses, her many fans insist. Some are still angry that Seles was silenced at Wimbledon 15 years ago, believing that she was gagged by officialdom and unfairly deprived of the championship. Martina Navratilova, Seles' semi-final victim in 1992, was one of those who registered a complaint about Seles' intemperate gargling. Obeying a directive that she shut up in the final, Seles did, playing timidly and ineffectively (6-2 6-1) against Steffi Graf, whom she usually beat at that time. But Seles was a minor offender compared to the present-day howlers.
Navratilova was heard on the subject again last week on the BBC. She called the shrieking cheating, the sounds interfering with the opponent's concentration and ability to hear the ball being struck. Navratlilova says hearing the stroke is essential.
However, the piercing wails of Serena Williams in the quarter-finals didn't prevent Henin, the quintessence of quiet, from triumphing. It was a victory for those who feel that the screamers should be arrested for disturbing the peace.
It's probably too late for that, however, since the sorority of squeals has broadened, and a masterclass in screaming was given in the fourth round, a double-barrelled duet as Venus - who was on screeching good form in yesterday's final - beat Sharapova. They could be heard in Piccadilly Circus. Decibels be damned, seemed to be their cry.
In the earlier days of the soggy, mildewed tournament, their rivals in sound effects were clearly audible. Outstanding were the roaring Francesca Schiavone and Russian Elena Dementieva, who has a seal's honking down pat. A definite comer and contender is Victoria Azarenka from Belarus. Give her time as a Sharapova wannabe. She's only 17.
You say I'm being sexist? Rafa Nadal gives us some heartfelt moans, but the men just aren't in the same league. One was, Thomas Muster. A claymeister, he never lasted long enough at Wimbledon to cause a disturbance with his bovine bellowings.
Sharapova says she's been Shriekapova since she was a little kid at Nick Bollettieri's tennis boot camp in Florida. Nobody turned off the sound when it might have been done. But, given her fame, Bollettieri may be giving voice, as well as stroke lessons.
If Maria hadn't made it in tennis, there might have been a future in opera, say as Lucia going mad in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.
Bud Collins, a commentator for NBC, is covering his fortieth Wimbledon. His website is www.budcollinstennis.com