Some people think it’s hilarious, others find it annoying, and the rest of us might be a little aroused by it: grunting. Ever since Monica Seles –often seen as the Godmother of Grunt – decided that every stroke should be accompanied by some kind of sound, grunting has become one of the most debated components of tennis. Critics claim it’s distracting to the opponent and therefore cheating. Research suggests they might be right.
In 2010, research psychologist Scott Sinnet published the first study on grunting in tennis. Together with colleague Alan Kingstone, he conducted an experiment in which 33 participants were asked to view a video of a tennis player hitting the ball to either side of the tennis court. The shot either did or did not contain a brief sound at the moment the strike was made. The viewers then had to respond as quickly as possible, indicating the direction of the ball. The results showed that the “extraneous sound” caused the participants to respond slower and with less accuracy.
Is grunting cheating? Maybe. But proving that a player’s grunting is an act of gamesmanship — rather than an involuntary response to the exertions of high-level tennis — is nearly impossible. Notorious grunters such as Maria Sharapova (who set the record of 105 decibels on a sound monitor – right up there with a pneumatic drill) claim they cannot and will not change anything about the way they play. “You’ve watched me grow up, you’ve watched me play tennis,” she stated in an interview with New York Times, “I’ve been the same over the course of my career. No one important enough has told me to change or do something different.”
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Read (open access) study
Scott Sinnett1, Alan Kingstone (2010). Are grunters cheaters? The effects of grunting when judging the direction of a tennis shot PloS one