Billie Jean King, one of the greatest tennis players in history of tennis was quoted saying “Tennis is a perfect combination of violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquility.” In the recent history I believe the tranquility has evanescent because of “grunting”. To some “grunting” comes with a purpose and naturally to a few.
It was Monica Seles who originally inspired the “gruntometer”, the measuring of decibels on Centre Court by newspapers. The first of the female power players, the Yugoslav teenager’s trademark was a loud grunt each time she belted the ball across the net. Maria Sharapova holds tennis’s grunting record which measured at 101.2 decibels, which is comparable to a police car siren. She is so loud that at one tournament the players on a neighboring court complained that they could not concentrate. Despite objections from opponents, tennis fans and officials, she has no plans to change her habit. In 2005 Wimbledon’s chief referee Alan Mills complained that officials can only act if the offender is “shown to be making the noises on purpose, which is virtually impossible to do”, and called for a crackdown. Today, thanks to Sharapova and others, grunting is so common it rarely provokes comment. This is unfortunate, since grunting is clearly a form of lack of gamesmanship, even if for players like Sharapova it is not something done deliberately.
Perhaps grunting is a tool to distract opponents? In some martial arts, breathing exercises are used to train fighters to make a short, sharp grunt – known as the kiai – to threaten or intimidate opponents as well as helping to focus the fighter’s own movements. It is rumored that coaches are teaching players to use grunting as an integral part of their game, whether because it helps to focus aggression or because it intimidates one’s opponent.
The worst offenders insist that it is not a tactic to gain an advantage, but simply an involuntary release at a moment of exertion. However, cricketers and baseball players score sixes and home runs without bellowing, and high-jumpers manage to clear the bar with shouting themselves over it. Even in tennis, Chris Evert and Billie Jean King played in silence, while Roger Federer hits his hardest shots with barely a murmur. In fact, a study at Hardin-Simmons University in Texas in 1999 showed that grunting made no difference whatsoever to one’s power in performing a dead lift.
As Martina Navratilova explained in 1992, there is more to grunting than merely irritating the opposition. The sound made by the racket striking the ball gives the skilled player a clue about the speed and spin of the ball they are about to face. Drowning this sound out with a grunt is going to deny that information to your adversary. Even if grunting does help to add power to a smash, it’s important to note that Sharapova shrieks even when she lobs the ball.
Either grunting is a natural or an intentional phenomenon; it is an integral part of modern tennis, with more and more players engaging in the act. One thing is for sure it doesn’t result in a “love” – hate relationship as “love” means nothing in tennis.