There are two types of tennis players in this game - those who grunt, and those who don’t. There is no in-between, even if there are varying degrees and volumes of those players that do indeed grunt when hitting the ball.
Grunting is not something particularly new either. In fact, grunting has been a part of the game for as long as I can remember, on both the men’s and women’s side of the game.
These days, you’ve got legendary grunters like Rafael Nadal, and in the women’s game, you’ve got players like Serena Williams and the now retired, Maria Sharapova - players who are unapologetically loud on the court.
Fun fact for you - Sharapova is well-regarded as the loudest grunter to ever play the game in recent times, with grunts regularly surpassing the 100 decibels mark. But why does this happen?
Why do players grunt in the first place?
And why do some players grunt a little more excessively than others?
I’ll answer your questions throughout, so do join me on this journey through the rather loud and somewhat infamous world of grunting in tennis!
Let’s kick things off with our first type of tennis player - the grunter. Since this quick piece is mainly focused on our beloved (or not so beloved) grunters, this should be a pretty exciting region to explore.
As I’ve previously mentioned, grunting has been a part of the game for as long as I can recall, but it does seem to be getting a bit more excessive these days.
Back in the days of guys like Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, grunting was seen as somewhat of an amusement, and it certainly wasn’t the norm.
But let’s be honest, these weird and wonderful noises definitely added plenty of atmosphere to the game!
Fast forward to 2021, and grunting is pretty much part and parcel of professional tennis, with legends like Rafael Nadal leading the pack with some of the most prominent grunting on tour.
If you are in any doubt at just how prominent grunting has become these days, check out this pretty fun video of the leading ATP tour players attempting to ‘guess the player’ solely by their grunt - it’s rather amusing!
As much as grunting adds a little spice to the game, it’s not something that has been adopted by all - not by any means. In fact, one of the true GOATs of the game, Roger Federer, barely makes any noise at all when he hits the ball.
It kind of makes you wonder - if it’s not something that is done by the legendary Swiss Maestro, arguably the best of all time, why is it necessary at all? Don’t worry, I’ll be answering this shortly!
And of course, it’s not just Federer that keeps his internal grunting monster at bay. Even top players like Novak Djokovic (unless under pressure), Naomi Osaka, Grigor Dimitrov, and David Goffin don’t grunt with each shot, so it’s logical to raise the question of whether this is a requirement to play top-level tennis.
I must say, there is an aura of magic surrounding those players that don’t grunt too, as it makes the game seem more effortless and somewhat more majestic. Then again, it all depends on your preference!
So, what’s the reason for grunting?
When all is said and done, we still need to answer the question - why do tennis players grunt? In my experience, and through my general observations from the game of tennis, I’ve been able to narrow things down to three main reasons.
Believe it or not, grunting can often be the result of physical exertion, even if it seems somewhat excessive for certain players. After all, when you are playing tennis at a high level, the effort required to get the maximum velocity and pace on the ball can be quite extraordinary, which can often express itself through an external grunt.
Take Rafael Nadal as a prime example. His forehand is the heaviest in the game as far as topspin generation is concerned, with RPM’s ranging between 3,600 and 5,500. No wonder he’s won so many clay-court titles!
So just imagine the physical effort required to put this much topspin on the ball, it’s incredible - hence the loud grunt associated with each shot.
Physical exertion might be the most common reason for grunting, but I believe that this one isn’t far behind. A guy who uses this to absolute perfection would be Novak Djokovic.
From time to time, especially when things are getting tight in a match, or things might be slipping away from him - he raises his usual noise when hitting the ball. Not only does this help to get him more involved in the game, but it actually helps to raise his energy levels on the court.
Some even say that this has a direct impact on the relationship between energy and focus, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this was proven true at some point in the future.
To see this in action, I highly recommend watching this video of Djokovic vs Nadal in Wimbledon 2018 - particularly the noise levels from Djokovic in the second set tie-break!
Last but not least, tension can be another contributing factor for why players might grunt. This probably comes as no surprise to you, but there’s a fair amount of pressure on these top-level players when they step out onto the court.
And while yes, they will be used to dealing with pressure and coping with nerves, sometimes - there has to be an exit route for this tension to leave the body.
This is where grunts can get pretty loud, and unless a player is specifically known for grunting such as Serena Williams or Rafael Nadal, the underlying reason could well be to let this tension flow out from the body. It’s fairly intriguing to witness, I must say!
My overall verdict on grunting
Grunting is not necessarily bad for the game, but it’s not always a great factor of the game either - not when it reaches levels that are quite clearly unnatural.
As long as it stays within the realms of normality, I am not against grunting whatsoever, as it helps to create atmosphere, tension, and can indeed result in a better quality of tennis - which in turn means more enjoyment for the spectators!
However, I also believe that not all players need to grunt to maximize their potential. You don’t need to look much beyond Roger Federer for proof of this.
So while the debate will go on for decades, I’m sure, I will conclude by saying that grunting is all a matter of preference and whether you feel you need to incorporate it into your game to play your best tennis.
But it’s not a one size fits all policy, and it’s certainly not healthy for tennis when it’s being used excessively, or in a way that is clearly designed to unsettle the opposition.