There's a bad whiff emanating from Wimbledon and it's not rotting strawberries and curdling cream. No, the early stink is about women tennis players who, heaven forbid, shriek. Apparently, the noise is causing some people to choke on their Pimms.
Frankly, the hackneyed debate about supposedly overly loud women reeks of sexism and hypocrisy.
Pity Portuguese teenager Michelle Larcher de Brito. The 16-year-old's got a crunching forehand, mounds of ambition and confidence beyond her years. But the only reason she's made headlines this week is because she yells when she plays. Last month at the French Open, one of Larcher de Brito's opponents complained about her high-pitched sound. That subsequently made her fair game in Wimbledon's build-up for reporters needing to fill news pages. No matter that the story of women players "grunting" (a horrible, disrespectful choice of word) is more than a decade old, when Monica Seles was criticized for disturbing opponents with her shriek. Or that Larcher de Brito is not alone in making a noise today. Roll out the cliches!
"What a racket" said the BBC. "Why do female tennis stars at Wimbledon sound as if they're in labour or a porn film?" asked the tabloid Daily Mail, never one to elevate the tone of debate. Ex-Wimbledon champion Michael Stich was even more prehistoric. "It sounds disgusting, ugly, unsexy!" he was quoted as saying. So that's what this is partly about. Sex. The noise, it seems, bothers some people who want women players to be little more than eye candy.
You can bet that if this were about the men, noise would be accepted as "manly." But for women, well, old fruit, it's simply unladylike.
What, like sweating, you mean?
What's frustrating about the noise about noise is that it comes just as women's tennis is under siege from critics for being boring, with too few established stars and lacking the rivalries, thrills and physicality of men's tennis.
So, basically, women are being asked to try harder, but not to yell too much as they do so.
In the Wimbledon singles first round, Larcher de Brito was quieter than during her testy third-round French Open run-in with France's Aravane Rezai, who in Paris made quite a mountain out of a molehill in front of her hometown crowd.
Playing on Wimbledon's Court No 17, Larcher de Brito still shrieked, but it wasn't that uncomfortable to listen to. Truth is, Maria Sharapova was louder on Court No 1.
But Sharapova is an established star, a tennis "babe" whose model looks help to sell the women's game. The Russian also can give short, sarcastic shrift to reporters whose questions she doesn't like. So, after she noisily defeated the almost equally vocal Viktoriya Kutuzova of Ukraine 7-5, 6-4 on Monday, not a word was breathed to her about yelling. At her post-match press conference, she faced soft questions like "What does Wimbledon mean to you?" Larcher De Brito, on the hand, got a grilling from mostly male reporters after her 6-2, 7-5 win over Klara Zakopalova, a lackadaisical Czech player who one wishes had done a bit of screaming herself on court, at least to show she was trying. After two perfunctory questions about the match to keep up appearances that this wasn't a lynching, the interrogation of Larcher de Brito began: Can you control your grunting? If you were told to stop it, how would you feel? Will you get louder as the tournament progresses?
It's so much easier to bully a teenager few people have heard of. If tennis officials really believe that noise levels are becoming a problem, then any solution must be applied to everyone, be they Sharapova and the noisy Serena Williams or relative unknowns from Portugal.
Some critics argue that shrieking is off-putting for opponents. Yet only rarely do opponents complain. Zakopalova had absolutely nothing to say post-match about Larcher de Brito's noise. Larcher De Brito, like other noisy players, says her shrieks are not conscious and that's been doing it since she was a child. She is rightfully worried that her game will suffer if she is forced to muzzle herself _ as once happened to Seles. She's also got two elder brothers and they taught her not to get pushed around. "I'm not here really to be quiet for anybody. I'm here to play. I'm here to win. That's it," she said. "If people don't like my grunting, they can always leave."