The 'shriek heard 'round the world' must be muffled

Martin Rogers
May 30, 2009

It would be a heck of a lot easier for women's tennis officials if Michelle Larcher de Brito wasn't going to be any good. As it is, the 16-year-old Portuguese phenomenon is on course to become the "shriek heard 'round the world."

Larcher de Brito, who lost a third-round clash to Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai on Friday, could be the next big thing in the women's game, having been developed by Nick Bollettieri in Florida and apparently ready to start challenging the world's best.

The problem is, she also is by far the biggest assault on the eardrums in a sport full of grunters and screamers.

If you haven't heard Larcher de Brito in action yet, it is hard to imagine the piercing sound she creates (you can hear it at the 2:30 mark in this video from Tennis Channel). Think Maria Sharapova, multiplied by Monica Seles, added to an untrained hand slashing away at a violin.

Some of the teenager's shrieks lasted so long that they were still hanging in the air as Rezai was playing the next shot.

Partly because she was playing a local, partly because they just like to get antsy, the Roland Garros crowd was swift to turn on Larcher de Brito, showering her with jeers and catcalls.

WTA Tour officials clustered at courtside to monitor the situation, yet the issue of grunts and squeals is a tough one for tennis chiefs.

The WTA is loath to intervene, primarily because doing so could put it at odds with one of its most recognizable stars, Sharapova.

Larcher de Brito, though, could force its hand and even lead to a change in the rules.

Whereas Sharapova does tennis far more good than harm, Larcher de Brito's tortured exhortations easily could turn fans away from their television screens.

Clearly something needs to be done, and quickly.

There simply is no legitimate need to deliver such a long and murderous shriek every time the ball is struck, however much effort is being put into the shot.

With all the technology making itself a staple of world tennis, like Hawkeye and net cord sensors, surely the addition of a decibel-meter wouldn't be too intrusive?

If players have the license to scream, many of them will do so. Many will claim their verbals are involuntary.

But if over-the-top shrieking is punishable by the loss of points or even games, see how quickly the volume magically is turned down.

Let's hope Larcher de Brito, an exciting talent, makes a big noise on tour. But not like this.

Image via Reuters