Does it benefit tennis players to grunt when they hit the ball?

Background

There is a growing chorus of critics who complain that many of the top-ranked professional tennis players who grunt when they hit the ball gain an unfair advantage because the sound of the grunt interferes with their opponent’s game. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim.

Methodology/Principal Findings

We explored this potential detrimental effect of grunting by presenting videos of a tennis player hitting a ball to either side of a tennis court; the shot either did, or did not, contain a brief sound that occurred at the same time as contact. The participants’ task was to respond as quickly as possible, indicating whether the ball was being hit to the left- or right-side of the court. The results were unequivocal: The presence of an extraneous sound interfered with a participants’ performance, making their responses both slower and less accurate.

Conclusions/Significance

Our data suggest that a grunting player has a competitive edge on the professional tennis tour. The mechanism that underlies this effect is a topic for future investigation. Viable alternatives are discussed. For example, the possibility that the interfering auditory stimulus masks the sound of the ball being struck by the racket or it distracts an opponent’s attention away from the sound of the ball.

Source: “A Preliminary Investigation Regarding the Effect of Tennis Grunting: Does White Noise During a Tennis Shot Have a Negative Impact on Shot Perception?” from PLoS ONE 2010

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