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Grunting in Tennis


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Everyone has a different opinion about the sounds that tennis players make. Some say that the grunts and yells made on the court are obnoxious and unseemly whiles others say they add a unique element to the game. Others still contend that players should do whatever they have to in order to be comfortable and play at their best.

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But does grunting really help? Over the past 10 years there have been several studies with inconclusive results. It is possible that grunting enables a player to hit the ball a bit harder or a littler more accurately. But this finding could be confounded by the fact that make a loud noise could distract an opponent into making a mistake. So a ball hit particularly well might be helped along with a little noisy interference.

A New Study   

A new study has been done to get to the bottom of this. The researchers, in order to figure out the effects of grunting in tennis, elected to study grunting in another sport altogether: martial arts. This may seem counterintuitive off the bat but here’s why: in tennis there is time between when a player hits the ball and grunts, and when the ball lands on the other side of the court. So the opposing player has to contend with reacting to the ball while being potentially distracted by the noises of the opponent.

But in martial arts there is no delay. When one athlete strikes another with a hand or foot and lets out a yell it happens all at once. There is no cross-court reaction time.

How Did the Study Work?

The study was really very simple. The researches had a number of athletes strike a punching bag. Some of the athletes yelled during the strike and some did not. Then the researchers recorded the strength with which the athletes were able to strike the bag. They also had a group of participants watch videos of the athletes striking the bag and asked them to say if they thought the athlete would strike high or low.

The researchers found that the athletes who yelled during the strike were able to strike the bag with about 10 percent more force than the athletes who were silent. They also found that the participants had more difficulty predicting the location of the strike when it was accompanied by a yell.

Implications for Tennis Players

So it is quite possible that the grunts we hear on the tennis court have real value. They can provide both extra strength to a player and a distraction for their opponent.

Critics of grunting in tennis may say that it is unfair because of the distraction element. Some say that distraction should not be used as a tactic to gain an advantage in a match. But because of the physical strength provided by grunting we cannot say that it is merely a distraction tool. For this reason it is unlikely that we will see a ban on grunting in the future.

Even if some players and fan alike would rather see it go, it would be surprising to see prohibited from the sport, a technique that improves the quality of play.

As wit any study, we have to remember that this one was done in a laboratory. So the results may not be completely transferable to real live competition. The fact that the researches used martial arts for their study instead of tennis also means that there could be discrepancies between their findings and the truth of grunting on the tennis court.

Can We Expect to Hear More Players Adopt the Grunt?

The positive gains from grunting may mean that more tennis players adopt the style. After all, who wouldn’t want to gain an edge and distract their opponents at the same time?

But grunting as you hit the ball, as one might imagine, is an automatic, thoughtless act. Players who grunt, do so instinctively. While it is perhaps possible for an athlete to train themselves to be a grunter, this seems an unlikely strategy. There is always the possibility that adding a new element like grunting, would hurt more than help.

So while the findings of the study may explain an interesting quirk of the game it is unlikely that we may see many changes in the state of play.

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