Andy Murray celebrates during his third round match against Italy’s Fabio Fognini. Pictures: Toby Melville/Reuters
Andy Murray celebrates during his third round match against Italy’s Fabio Fognini. Pictures: Toby Melville/Reuters
David Beckham and his mother Sandra in the stands on centre court at Wimbledon. Pictures: Toby Melville/Reuters
David Beckham and his mother Sandra in the stands on centre court at Wimbledon. Pictures: Toby Melville/Reuters
General view on court 1 during the second round match between Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and Czech Republic’s Adam Pavlasek. Picture: Toby Melville/Reuters
General view on court 1 during the second round match between Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and Czech Republic’s Adam Pavlasek. Picture: Toby Melville/Reuters
The net is measured by an official during the second round match between France’s Gilles Simon and Austria’s Dominic Thiem> Picture: Tony O'Brien/Reuters
The net is measured by an official during the second round match between France’s Gilles Simon and Austria’s Dominic Thiem> Picture: Tony O'Brien/Reuters

So, the grunting season is upon us once more.

What is referred to above is, of course, the annual Wimbledon Tennis Championships, which have started, just in case you have been in a coma.

It, the Championships, that is, not the grunting or the coma, is a great British tradition made even more great because these days they actually have a player who can win.

When he does, Andy Murray is totally British. When he doesn’t, he reverts to being merely Scottish.

It’s all part of the fun. It’s like the obscene price of strawberries and cream and accommodation in SW London at this time, the singing in the rain, Cliff Richard and the oh so annoying shouts of adoration and exhortation emoted between vital points.

Wimbledon is the greatest.

Monica Seles started all the grunting, although in her case, it was more of a high pitch squeak, wasn’t it? It was mocked and loathed and ridiculed until that clearly mad Steffi Graf fan stabbed her and suddenly everyone loved Monica.

I chatted to her at a Laureus Sport For Good function in Alex some years ago and she was fascinated by the song Shosholoza and its repetitive nature. The origins of the piece, the sound of the immigrant Zimbabwean miner’s train impression, made her even more fascinated.

She was also very interested in architecture. So nice was she that the matter of grunting and its origin was not raised. I ever so politely bottled.

Martina Navratilova called the practice of grunting cheating, as the noise masks the sound of the ball on the racket and thus hinders the opponent from assessing the nature of the shot.

Now everyone seems to be doing it and, like bouncing tennis balls multiple times before a serve, it is not even questioned.

Mind you, why was it that the original complaints seemed to be focused against women players, not men, who grunted with the best? Just asking.

This week a PhD researcher into the nature and functions of human non-verbal vocalisations - I kid you not - suggested that there is more to tennis grunting than meets the eye. Or should that be ear?

Jordan Raine from the University of Sussex cited recent studies that suggest grunting allows players to hit the ball harder without increasing heart rate or oxygen consumption. This could be vital in long, close matches.

He also revealed that recent studies show that players’ grunting pitches vary between matches they lose, where they are higher, and ones they win, where the grunts are lower.

Players who listened to sound tracks of matches, with no pictures, could successfully identify which of two grunt sequences, from the same player, came from matches that were lost.

The reasons for all this amazing stuff are unclear but might be due to psychological factors based on previous results, fatigue or world rankings.

The point is that grunts can be significant in tennis, not to mention sports betting on tennis. Let’s not go there.

It follows that if this is the case, how many other seemingly minor things can also be significant in elite sport?

Grunting going into rugby tackles could be beneficial. Perhaps that screaming over line-out calls has more to it than just masking the code of the caller. Perhaps those irritating goal-kicking rituals that have been mentioned before are significant in determining success.

Who knows?

Of course, there will be charlatans who try to cash in. There always are.

Remember those golf bracelets that supposedly increased power? What a load of nonsense that used a placebo effect to make certain people millions. The affect made people think they were stronger but it didn’t translate into longer shots.

As Al Pacino told is in that incredible speech in Any Given Sunday, life is just a game of inches. He then went on to equate this to American football and by extension, to elite sport.

It is just a movie but the message is accurate, and as sports get more and more professional, more accurate over time, I wonder what other grunts will emerge to enable players and teams to inch ahead.

* Robbie is a former Transvaal, Ireland and British Lions scrumhalf.


Saturday Star

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