Updated: Jan 15, 2021
To someone who does not play or watch tennis, the sounds that most tennis players make may seem confusing and unnecessary. Nevertheless, grunting is an essential part of most pro tennis players' games as it is a fantastic way of getting a good rhythm and good timing with their shots. Grunting serves to enable the player to exhale as they hit the ball which not only generates more power on their shots but gives the players more energy. If you feel that you get tired and out of breath after just one or two long points, then you might want to consider whether you are breathing properly or not. Surprisingly, there are many players who are so focused on the ball and their feet that they forget to breathe during points which results in them almost collapsing with fatigue after a long rally. Let's explore the game styles and breathing/grunting technique of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick to get a better understanding of what is a positive grunt and what is negative.
Nadal has one of the most iconic grunts on tour and it is fair to say that it is relatively elongated. In other words, there is sound still coming out of his mouth even when the ball is past the net and on the other side of the court. Rafa is a grinder and he will never give up in a point, his grunt actually reflects this as he almost screams out in agony as he reaches for a ball. His breathing technique is not perfect though, he still does not allow himself to exhale properly when he hits a shot which can result in less energy. However, Nadal is super fit and for him, his grunt is more used for timing and rhythm then it is for breathing. I would argue that psychologically his grunt has a major effect on his game. Sometimes when Rafa is down in a match and grinding for his life, his grunt can sound like a war cry which reflects his mentality.
In my opinion, Roger Federer has the ideal breathing technique. He makes each shot look effortless as he exhales deeply when hitting a rally ball, and sharply when hitting an attacking shot. One rarely sees Federer's cheeks blown up with air indicating a steady release of airflow. Many people believe that Federer does not grunt but this is untrue. Federer often grunts when serving, his grunt is not loud, it's not elongated, it's instead more of an audible exhale. Federer's steady playing style and immaculate breathing technique has enabled him to find a way to play tennis well into his late thirties and he shows no sign of fatigue or lack of ability.
Novak Djokovic uses his grunt strictly for rhythm purposes only. As a breathing technique, I would say it is one of the worst on tour. This is because he is barely exhaling when he hits is shots resulting in a shallow inhale. This rarely causes any problems for him because he is physically so fit. However, we do see it affect him sometimes for example in the Australian Open 2012 final against Nadal where he collapsed to the court after a long point. you may notice that he often sounds winded when he grunts as if he has just gotten a punch to the stomach and is struggling to breathe. I would not advise copying his grunt unless you are really fit and just want to use a grunt for timing.
Andy Roddick is an interesting case when it came to breathing. His major problem was that he was inconsistent with his breathing and would at times hold his breath hitting a shot and at other times would exhale nicely. This inconsistency results in a poor rhythm on the court and again can be very tiring for the player as they are not taking in enough air during a long point. Unlike Federer, Roddick's cheeks could often be seen blown up as he hit his shots which indicated that he was holding his breath.
Do you agree with my analysis of breathing and grunting? Let me know what you think by commenting on the post or starting a discussion in the forum.