30 August 2018

To grunt or not to grunt, that is the question

Does grunting give a player an advantage? Yes, according to a summary of research published this week, but what is unarguable is it makes a devil of a noise

The US Open is just so darn noisy that grunting is never going to be the issue at Flushing Meadow that it is on the lawns of the All England Club. (If you really want to make a fuss in the Big Apple, you would be much better advised to try changing your top on court - at least that is what Alizé Cornet found when she demurely corrected her back-to-front top only to get a warning from the chair. But that's another story and the USTA has since apologised). But does grunting really give a player an advantage?

The witty German veteran Andrea Petkovic speaking to Sports Illustrated just ahead of the start of the US Open had an interesting explanation:

"I only ever grunt when things get really tough and I have to run a lot. The sounds that come out of my mind, trust me, I don't know why and I don't know how. In my darkest moment, I think it's Satan who is hiding in the depths of my souls and only comes out when I need him the least. What can I say: we all have burdens and sins we carry."

This week, a survey conducted by Receptional - a company dedicated to "search marketing" - revealed that 29% of the British public believed that grunting was likely to help a player's performance. 

And apparently making a noise really might help performance. Receptional cites Professor David Reby who has studied voice pitch and sexual attraction in mammals: "As with other mammal calls, the acoustic structure of human grunts contains information that may help us to infer contest outcomes."

Louise Deeley, a Sports Psychologist at Roehampton University, believes that grunting is part of the rhythm for tennis players: "The timing of when they actually grunt helps them with the rhythm of how they're hitting and how they're pacing things."

Various experiments have been conducted over the years and a study by PLOS ONE discovered that grunting during sports does indeed give competitive advantage. When looking at previous winners of the US Open, history shows similar results, with a positive correspondence appearing between performance and grunts.

Grunting isn't everything though. China's high decibel Shuai Zhang, for example, lost in the first round of this year's Open to Garbine Maguruza, but Serena Williams ranked 3rd in the top 10 loudest women in tennis by Business Insider Australia is still going strong.

According to Receptional, putting their money where others' mouths are, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will compete for first place in the Men’s Singles: "Both have a recognisable grunt and past plays suggest their chances are good."

But as the marketing firm admits it's "all just a theory and although tennis odds predict similar results, only time will tell who will reach the final."

Yup, in the end it's down to graft not grunts.