What's new on the grunt front

MIKE STROBEL, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

Who is that? Maria Sharapova? Or Jenna Jameson?

Grrrunt! Unnnnh! Snarl! Squeal! Ooooh! Nyuhhh!

Ooo, baby, yes, yes. I love tennis.

Take a listen at the Rogers Cup. The world's best women players are whacking balls at each other in the steamy Rexall Centre.

What a racket, pardon the expression.

I sit in on a match between Sharon Fichman, of Forest Hill, and Ayumi Morita, of Japan.

Ms Morita, 19, is powerful, but quiet as a mouse. By the end of the first set, she surely is deaf.

Our gal Sharon, 18, is a whirling cacophony of grunts, moans, shrieks and wails. I close my eyes and am transported to the Pussycat Theatre.

Fichman beats Morita, but has never ranked higher than world No. 202.

She's easily top 50 as a grunter. As Canadians, we should be proud.

Not even our beefiest hockey players make that much noise.

Of course, hockey is exciting without it.

Thank goodness for grunting in tennis. It's damn hard to watch otherwise, not to mention bad for the neck.

Tennis snobs don't get it. Their hue and cry over grunting reached a fever pitch when Michelle Larcher De Brito started breaking glass and cracking fine china at Wimbledon this year.

The wee siren from Portugal plays tennis like a fire truck. She squeals at every shot.

Very entertaining. Check out YouTube. She's been measured at 109 decibels. A chainsaw. Louder than thunder. Closing in on jackhammer.

"I'm not here to be quiet for anybody," she said, when opponents complained. "If people don't like it, they can leave."

You tell 'em, girl.

"I call it cheating and it's got to stop," is Martina Navratilova's take.

"Chrissie Evert and I never used to make noises," she told the Times of London.

Added Evert: "Steffi Graf hit the ball a ton and she didn't grunt. There were a lot of players, hard-hitting players, and you never heard a peep out of them.

"I don't understand the philosophy of it."

Sheesh, Chrissy. It's not philosophy. It's showbiz. What could be more engrossing than De Brito versus Sharapova? I'm no tennis buff, but I'd pay good money to see that.

Sharapova is to her sport what Meg Ryan was to fake orgasms. It's part of her sex- symbol status.

So it was shocking when rocker Adam Levine reportedly called Maria a "dead frog" in bed.

"She wouldn't make any noise during sex. I can't tell you how disappointed I was. I really thought, like a lot of guys, that she'd be the loud screaming type."

A lot of guys sighed in relief when Levine denied saying that.

Outside the bedroom, they've clocked Maria at 101 decibels.

How appropriate that Monica Seles was inducted into the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame this week.

She pioneered tennis grunting. Few match her even now. Hers was a two-toned shriek. A strangled yodel.

Anna Kournikova grunted only under pressure, which was most of the time, given her skills.

Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, has a short shriek, like a shot coyote.

I suspect the tour knows a good grunt when it hears it.

There are rules against distractions. But aside from "our supervisors having private words with a few of our younger athletes," there's no clampdown at the Rogers Cup, says tour boss Stacey Allaster.

So, why the grunts and growls?

Suspicion falls on legendary Nick Bollettieri, of Florida, who has taught many top court vocalists.

He denies the din is an underhanded ploy. It's simply heightened breathing, adding focus and energy.

Critics say it also masks the sound of the ball off your racket, so opponents can't tell what kind of shot to expect.

No matter. It's a small price to pay for the most entertaining audio this side of a peep show.

Grunt your hearts out, ladies.


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