Hockey has that crunching sound when a player is nailed against the boards, motorsports has the roar of screaming engines, and Women's tennis has its grunt music.
Close your eyes the next time you're watching women's tennis and just listen to the intermittent moans and screams that punctuate the ball whacking action and you'd swear Robert Plant was shrieking the chorus to Immigrant Song, "uhhh-aahaa-haa," at some spring break powwow on Daytona Beach.
That's how electric women's tennis can be.
There have been men who have bee known to bring on the noise. Jimmy Connors was a grunter and Brazilian Gustavo Kuertan has been known to belt out the occasional moan, but on the whole the males are a muted bunch.
You could slice the dead air between the monotonous pings and pongs in many men's matches with a machete.
"If you watch them up close and put a video to their face they are breathing out, they go 'fwhooo' but the grunting happens more with females," says Dr. John Murray, a West Palm Beach Florida based sports performance psychologist and the author of Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game. "It's probably not macho for a male to grunt," Dr. Murray opines.
The WTA has no qualms about pumping up the volume in their matches, "grunt if you like women's tennis," boasted one of tour's print ad campaigns a few years back. The fever pitch of the WTA's scream queens isn't just for show though, there's a scientific reason these ladies don't wait to exhale.
"Grunting is more prevalent in Women's tennis because when you grunt, when you breath at the contact point, you're actually generating more velocity out of the racquet head, you're more relaxed and you get power," explains Dr. Jim Loehr, the CEO of LGE Performance Systems and the man who helped turn Monica Seles into a wailer.
Loehr taught Seles to attack the ball with her breath as well as the racquet. "She was so shy and I wanted to get her to be a little more aggressive . [Just] making the sound helps her to be more assertive in every aspect of her play," Loehr explains.
If you're still not getting the grunts, sports psych Dr. Dennis Sprague breaks grunt music down straight: "Basically [grunts] relieve tension and maintain a level of arousal for optimal performance."
When the grunting gets really loud an the game starts to resemble a Herbal Essences commercials, a player can complain to the referee and after two warnings the dude in the chair can actually subtract a point from the offending grunter's score
"Dr. Murray is a critic of grunt pacifying. "I don't think it should be that rigid, I think if people want to grunt let them grunt. It doesn't have to be like the All England Club all the time."
We couldn't agree more with the doc. Grunts are great, they add a unique dimension to the woman's game, depending on the varying modalities of the howls you can ascertain how much a player has left in the tank.
The grunts are also great for tennis drinking games. Try this one at pub: every time Sharapova howls "eeeaaaahaa" everyone take a swig down the hatch.
SHOUT IT OUT
The British tabloid, the Sun actually records grunting noises at Wimbledon. Here are some of the louder grunters interspersed with some common household items:
Snowmobile 120 decibels
Maria Sharapova's shrieks register at 100 decibels
Hair Dryer 95 decibels
Monica Seles* 93.7 decibels
Serena Williams 88 decibels
Craftsman self-propelled Lawnmower 77 decibels
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