Grunting In Tennis – Is there Any Benefit?

Today we seldom give grunting a second thought, in tennis it has become an accepted norm. In fact, the two most dominant players on tour are ‘grunters’ with both Carlos Alcaraz and Areyna Sabalenka making highly noticeable sounds upon almost every shot. And it is not just these guys.

Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic also emit a grunt of sorts and only a few players and observers question it. But it hasn’t always been this way.

Non-grunters once accused those who did of using their noise for an advantage - cheating effectively. But that accusation fizzled out over time and grunting became more prevalent, and actually replaced by a notion of there being a scientific or psychological element behind a grunt.

So, let us examine grunting in tennis to see if there is indeed a benefit.

Grunting In Tennis – Origins

While no player can be considered to have invented grunting in tennis, Monica Seles can be considered to be its chief instigator. Originally from Yugoslavia, Seles was a dominant force in the early 1990s winning nine Grand Slams.

Her career was derailed after being stabbed while playing a tournament in 1993 by a particularly committed Stefi Graf supporter. Things were never the same again for Seles but she created a lot of noise in more ways than one. 

In her relatively short career, she treated us to a pretty loud grunt that was a hot topic of conversation, not least among her peers.

All-time great, Martina Navratilova, had a losing record against Seles. Irked, Martina publicly questioned the necessity of grunting in tennis, claiming it created an unfair advantage given that it masked the sound of the ball being hit.     

Did Martina have a point? Or is there a legitimate need and benefit to grunting?

What Grunting Does To an Opponent 

Before we examine grunting from the player’s perspective, let us consider the potential effect inflicted upon an unsuspecting or unfocused opponent.

The obvious aspect to consider when playing against someone who grunts is that you are given one more thing to think about.

Basically, it is an added distraction that can disarm a player who is unprepared or simply does not like unwanted distractions. 

But, the chief complaint among players, certainly Martina Navratilova, is that grunting can be disorienting because it masks the sound of a shot, a vital audible that informs a player as to when and how hard the ball has been hit.

And such was the level of uncertainty this initially created, that some players went so far as to level accusations of cheating against those who grunted.

Some even blamed the legendary coach, Nick Bolitieri, for encouraging his stable of players to strategically grunt.     

But today, with so many players grunting in some shape or form, it has become normalized and players either expect or adjust without any fuss, but we think that grunting in tennis can be beneficial if your opponent is unprepared or has a preference for peace.

The Science Behind The Grunt

Researchers have actually conducted scientific research into the benefits behind grunting and the results are fascinating. 

Ultimately, research shows that grunting in tennis can be performance-enhancing, notably in terms of the force exerted onto the ball. The velocity of groundstrokes was found to increase by 3.8% while serves left the racket with an extra 7k p/h speed when accompanied by a grunt. Interestingly, this was all achieved without any additional physical toll – in effect grunting was found to help generate free power! 

Psychologically, grunting tennis can be considered part of creating a rhythm, occurring in symphony with the ‘hit’ to emphasize a tempo of sorts.

Furthermore, the volume and length of a grunt can mirror the shot being produced – a particularly loud and long grunt accompanies an aggressive effort and it could be considered a way of helping to commit to a shot – demonstrated most notably by Areyna Sabalenka whose grunt gets louder and longer when she commits fully to a shot. 

But science aside, tennis has become an increasingly physical sport where power is a significant key. And while players such as Roger Federer can play in virtual silence with the utmost grace, there are many, like in other sports, that simply have to exert some kind of audible release.

Thus, irrespective of whether it is performance-enhancing or not, it is an understandable byproduct of significant effort being made.

To Grunt or Not? That is the Question

Grunting in tennis is here to stay, and while we can be picky as to whether some players are abusing their right to grunt by being overly loud to seek an edge, the fundamental right to emit a sound when hitting is today, almost universally accepted. 

But is it advantageous?      

Our short answer is yes, but only when it comes naturally.

We wouldn’t recommend non-grunters to start manufacturing a grunt, it’s a needless complication and after all, remaining quiet never hurt Roger. But, if you find an organic grunt develops when you play, please don’t fight it. 

A grunt can be freeing, it can amplify the velocity of your shots and it could become your personal metronome that helps dictate a timbre that accompanies the feeling of a ball on the racket. 

As tennis has become more of a physical sport, anything you can do to enhance your capacity for power is a good thing and if more and more of the world’s best players grunt freely, the Bros say don’t be shy and or too self-conscious when it comes to making some noise! 

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