Groan, Wheeze, Moan, Mutter... Tennis Player Grunts Upset Opponents
Spaniard Rafael Nadal and American Venus Williams are two of the biggest grunters in professional tennis. Grunting seems to come naturally to tennis players because it acts as a form of tension release when they are physically working hard. But recently published research examined the effects of grunting on the opponents of the grunters in a controlled setting.
Many top-ranked professional players are starting to complain about the growns, grunts, and moans of their opponents, insisting that the sounds are distracting and negatively effect their games. Researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the University of British Columbia, therefore, attempted to obtain scientific evidence of this theory.
Participants were 33 students from the University of British Columbia, none of whom had more than recreational experience in tennis. All had normal hearing and normal or corrected vision. They viewed videos of a tennis player hitting a tennis ball to one side of the court or another. Researchers randomly injected white noise (to make the stimulus consistent) timed to the hitting of the ball and coming from the same spatial location of the ball.
The participants were required to identify the direction of the ball on each video, as landing on the left side or right side of the tennis court, by hitting certain keys on a keyboard; specifically to hit the M key with their right hand if they thought the ball was going to the right side, and to hit the X key on the left side if they perceived the ball was headed for the left side. They were instructed to hit one or the other key as quickly and accurately as possible. The experiment lasted about 25 minutes for each participant.
Perhaps not surprising to tennis players, the results indicated that significantly slower and less accurate decisions occurred when the sound was presented simultaneously with the opponent's shot than when there was no sound associated with the shot.
"This is the first study to look at the issue of grunting in tennis. Our current work is also looking at how advanced and professional tennis players perform, to determine if they have developed any strategies to limit the negative effects of a grunting opponent," said Scott Sinnett, co-author, from the University of Hawaii.
Though further studies likely need to be conducted with professional players, one must wonder whether the outcome will be a rule prohibiting grunts in pro tennis. And that's likely to be hard to enforce, since so many tennis players and other athletes naturally express their release of energy vocally.
(What a weapon! If you want to beat your tennis opponent, groan... a lot.)