Why Do Tennis Players Grunt?
Tennis players have a fair few unusual quirks. There’s the way they dress (not everyone is a fan of the shorts and long socks), how they speak during a match, (the tennis scoring system and turn of phrases can sound like foriegn language) and the way they say ‘come on’ after winning a point.
However, one of the most ridiculed yet misunderstood quirks that tennis players possess is the grunt.
Grunting is not something that many sports fans will come across when they watch their favourite sporting events on TV. Major sports such as soccer, basketball, baseball, and football are broadcast around the world, but tennis is the only major sport in which grunting can be heard.
Grunting is not something completely unique to tennis though, other sports require a prolonged exhalation. Some activities such as weight lifting, boxing, mixed martial arts and rugby will typically involve grunting in some shape or form.
But, why is grunting actually necessary? Is it something that is actually beneficial to athletic performance or is it just a bandwagon that a lot of tennis players seem to jump on? Well, let’s find out!
So Why Do Tennis Players Really Grunt?
Whilst it may seem like just a common occurrence on the tennis court, players actually grunt for a number of reasons.
Not all tennis players will have an extended or loud grunt like you may hear from some of your favorite professional players on TV, but most recreational tennis players that understand how to use their body correctly will exhale as they hit their shots.
Exhaling Through Shots
The main benefit to grunting is the relaxation of the muscles as you exhale through your shots. Think about it, if you hold your breath and tighten up as you are about to swing through the ball, you will restrict the movement of your muscles and not be as loose as you hit the ball.
Whilst Roger Federer does not often grunt loudly as he hits the ball, he is able to produce some of the most effortless and free flowing strokes the world has ever seen.
He makes a conscious effort of exhaling through his shots, after loading up his legs, core and shoulders. This allows him to uncoil with a lot of kinetic potential energy, take a full swing through the ball and remain relaxed in the process, all thanks to him breathing out as he hits.
So, breathing in whilst you load up your muscles and prepare your racket to strike the ball can really help steady yourself for contact, whilst exhaling as you uncoil your body and swing your racket through the ball is a great way to stay relaxed and produce long, effortless strokes!
Another major benefit of the grunt is timing. As we have just mentioned, you should breathe in as you prepare to hit your shots, and breathe out as you start your forward swing.
Making a conscious effort to align your breathing to your pre and post contact of the ball can really help improve your rhythm and therefore your timing.
Timing is a very important part of tennis. Since there are so many moving parts in a tennis stroke, it can be challenging to hit the ball cleanly and consistently if you are not timing the ball well.
Therefore, adding this breathing technique to your game can significantly improve the consistency of your contact point, helping you to hit the ball more cleanly more often.
Focusing on your breathing also preoccupies your mind and stops you from overthinking your shots too much. This is a major problem for tennis players with a lot of variety, as they can find it difficult to choose the right shot at the right time.
However, consciously distracting yourself from this decision making process, even if it is only by a slight amount, can help to clear brain fog and leave you free to swing effortlessly through the ball.
Whilst grunting (or even the act of exhaling without any audible noise) is great for your relaxation, kinetic chain and timing, it also has a lot of stress relieving merits.
We all know that breathing through a long stretch or when performing a difficult exercise routine can help clear the mind and push through the tension, however this is also true on the tennis court.
When tennis players are going through pivotal moments in matches, you will often see them increase the volume and frequency of their grunting.
This is likely due to their increased stress levels and tension they will be feeling though their legs and arms. This is the typical fight or flight response, and in order to stay as relaxed as possible in these difficult moments, some tenison needs to be forced out.
An easy way to do this is through grunting, as it forces you to breathe throughout the entire duration of the shot, both the short intake of breath before you hit and the long, extended exhale as you swing through your shot.
So, be conscious of this when you are next out on court. You may notice your opponent’s grunt getting louder and longer as the match approaches a pivotal moment. This could be a telling sign that they are feeling the pressure and is a good opportunity for you to play aggressively. You may even notice yourself doing this in difficult moments, so keep an ear out for it!
Another reason that some players grunt is simply for intimidation purposes. When you hear the great Rafael Nadal grunting as he unleashes his monstrous forehand, it can certainly add to the intimidation factor for a player down the other end of the court. This may not seem like the most obvious reason to grunt, but it can actually give you a slight edge in the mental battle on the court.
The Loudest Grunts Ever!
Here is a collection of some of the loudest tennis grunts we have ever heard!
The king of clay is certainly not afraid to show his true colours on the court. He was one of the most iconic grunts out there and is often heard extending his grunt on his ferocious lefty forehand!
Maria Sharapova has one of the most recognisable and loudest grunts we have ever heard. Her extended shriek can be a point of controversy as it can sometimes even put off her opponents, but it definitely helps her remain one of the most steely competitors the sport of tennis has ever seen!
Victoria Azarenka has a very unique grunt. It almost sounds like an owl hooting! Again, her grunt is rather extended and has been known to put off her opponents. However, it is a great example of how an extended grunt can help you relax throughout your entire tennis swing.
Michelle Larcher de Brito
Arguably the loudest grunt we have ever heard on the professional circuit, Portugese player Michelle Larcher de Brito leaves all of her emotions out on the court! She is not afraid to scream and shout to the rooftops as she strikes the ball, making her one of the most recognisable players on the WTA tour. You can definitely hear her a mile off!
The Spanish sensation is more than happy to exhale loudly throughout her ground strokes, helping her to stay relaxed even in the toughest of moments. Her grunt is definitely one of the loudest and most gruff we have heard. She also brings it out on practically every single shot!
Legend of the game Serena Williams has been one of the most gladiatorial competitors the tennis world has ever seen.
One of the stand out features of her competitiveness is her aggressive sounding grunt, which certainly intimidates her opponents in the toughest of moments. You can hear her straining for the ball as she stretches and the effort she puts into her crunching groundstrokes.
Elina Vesnina has a very loud and primal sounding grunt, which helps her to be one of the biggest hitters on the WTA tour. She is able to produce some unbelievable shots from way off of the court, often turning a point on its head by turning defense into attack.
Overall, grunting is actually a very important and necessary part of becoming a better tennis player.
Whilst not all players will feel the need to grunt as loudly and extensively as some of the professionals, learning how to breathe properly before and after you hit the ball has a range of benefits. You can stay more relaxed as you swing through the ball, improve your timing and even intimidate your opponent by grunting, so add it to your game next time you are out on court!
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