What is grunting? In simple terms, it is the loud noise that follows after hitting a shot in tennis.

Some deliberation stems as to when the sound effects officially came into play. According to Josh Levin’s article; Tennis: An Aural History, the late Bud Collins recalls the first real grunter back in 1962. A junior female named Vickie Palmer, specifically nicknamed “The Grunter,” came onto the scene to win what is now the US Open.

The creation of the grunt started in the early ’60s and became prominent in the late ‘80s. The most popular grunters at that time were Monica Seles, Andre Agassi and Jimmy Connors. As the years passed, players’ grunts became louder, causing those in the tennis world to speculate if this really was a tactic that players used to mentally throw off their opponents.

For quite some time, grunting has created quite the controversy. Players like recently retired Maria Sharapova were called into question when it was discovered she would grunt during her matches and not during her practice sessions. Sharapova has been known to reach over 100 decibels, with her exact highest decibel level in question.

According to an article written by Vicki Ward in The Telegraph, Sharapova’s shrieking at 2015 Wimbledon reached a level of 109 decibels. This is the loudest grunt in women’s tennis and shares the spotlight with a former top 100 player, Michelle Larcher de Brito, who also reached 109 decibels [1]. For those that don’t know how loud that is: a lion’s roar is 110 decibels and on average, a chainsaw is 106 to 115 decibels [2].

Back in 2011, then top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki, publicly accused students of the Bollettieri Tennis Academy (in Florida) of cheating by grunting [1]. The Chairman of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), Stacy Allaster publicly stated there would be a conversation with the Bollettieri Academy about the increasing number of grunting players coming from the institution [1].

About a year later, the Bollettieri Tennis Academy released a document explaining that grunting conceals the sounds of string impact, therefore resulting in “an increase in an opponent’s decision error, and a slower response time.”[1] Quite simply, players need to hear the impact in order to give them an idea as to what type of ball they are going to receive and how to set up for their next shot.

In retrospect, a common argument is that if a person is focused enough, their opponent’s grunting will not affect them. Serena Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam champion, is one who grunts and says that a competitor’s grunt does not bother her [1].

However, Swiss legend Roger Federer was not a fan of Rafael Nadal’s grunting during the 2014 Australian Open. According to Matt Cronin’s article on Tennnis.com, Federer (a non-grunter) was more irritated by the fact that there was no consistency in the grunting, meaning at one point Nadal grunted and the next point, he didn’t.

There is also the belief, that by grunting, it helps one to hit the ball harder and better. According to sports psychologist Louise Deeley of Roehampton University, she believes that the timing of when a person grunts actually helps them with the rhythm of how they are hitting. [1]

Retired Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova thinks otherwise and has quite explicitly stated that “grunting is a form of cheating, making tennis unpleasant for the opponent and audience.” [1]

Overall, the grunting debate is something that is ongoing whether it actually helps a player or not.

Is it gamesmanship? Should it be banned?

Currently, chair umpires are allowed to give point penalties if they feel the offender has hindered the opponent. [1]

In the ATP’s most recent rulebook, grunting may be a distraction occurring on-court that may be ruled inadvertent (unintentional) or ruled deliberate [3]. According to a 2017 Grunting article by Bastien Thorne, the WTA rules state that: “any continual distraction of regular play, such as grunting, shall be dealt with in accordance with the Hindrance Rule.’ In essence, a player can be docked a point for grunting.”

Should there be a consensus by the International Tennis Federation on a standard decibel level, with players being reprimanded if they go over this? What do you think?


1) Grunting in tennis

2) Harmful Noise Levels

3) ATP Tour Rulebook

4) Grunting: The issue that won’t go away


6) Maria Sharapova's grunts reignite Wimbledon row over noise on court

7) Tennis: An Aural History


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