* Grunts can hide clues to a ball's direction
* Is grunting fair?
VANCOUVER, British Columbia Oct 1 Tennis
players who grunt loudly when they hit the ball appear to have
a competitive edge over their opponents, according to a study
published on Friday.
The noise accompanying a hard shot makes an opponent slower
to respond and more likely to misjudge exactly where the ball
is going -- so it is tougher to hit it back, said Canadian and
"Conservatively, our findings suggest that a tennis ball
traveling 50 miles per hour (80 kph) could appear 24 inches
2 feet (60 cm) closer to the opponent than it actually is,"
said Scott Sinnett, an assistant at the University of Hawaii.
The researchers tested their theory on students in a
laboratory at the University of British Columbia, using sounds
that were comparable in volume to grunts of tennis stars Maria
Sharapova and Rafael Nadal.
The results were published in the online issue of Public
Library of Science ONE.
Sinnett and his colleagues say there are several possible
explanations for why grunting has an effect.
Some professional tennis players try to judge the spin and
velocity of a ball from the sound it makes hitting a racket, so
a loud grunt would mask those clues, while also serving as a
general distraction, the researchers suggested.
Grunting is a controversial subject in tennis circles, with
nine-time Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova having called
it "cheating pure and simple."
"The study raises a number of interesting questions for
tennis. For example, if Rafael Nadal is grunting and Roger
Federer is not, is that fair?" Sinnett said.
A Wimbledon match this year between Serena Williams and
Portuguese teenager Michelle Larcher de Brito was described as
a "decibel Derby" for all the noise the players were making.
Sinnett said the researchers now planned to look at whether
the world's top tennis players had developed strategies to
mitigate the effects of their opponents' grunts.
(Reporting by Allan Dowd; Editing by Peter Cooney)