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Grunting: Desperation or intimidation tactic?

Published: September 11, 2009
Section: Sports


Tennis is considered a mental game. Players are alone or with one partner, and are not allowed to talk with coaches until after the match is over. There is one aspect of the mental game that is often over looked- the grunt. This might be a sign I’ve been watching too much tennis, but I can’t help it if the U.S. Open is on whenever I’m not in class.

To some people one grunt is the same as another grunt, but there are definite differences, especially in the women and men’s game. For the women, the grunt is more of an intimidation tactic. It was made popular by Venus and Serena Williams, who apparently were not dominating enough, but then grunted every time the racquet came into contact with the ball. Some people may claim that women grunt in order to use as much power as possible, but I think the intimidation factor makes a much stronger case. Today, it is common to find at least one player grunting in each match; the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova are just a few. Maybe they think that their scream grunts really do enable them to hit the ball harder, but I think they just intimidate their opponents.

Now, in the men’s game, the grunt is used in a very different situation. Instead of intimidation it is used more in desperation. Whenever Rafael Nadal or Andy Roddick grunts it is more to motivate themselves than to affect their opponent. The grunts generally come later in the matches, usually after losing a set or after playing a really great set. Men rarely come out and start grunting from the get-go, but only when they need an extra little something to push themselves that little bit further. Think about it; have you ever heard Roger Federer grunt? Exactly – he is one of the most composed players on the tour and also the most winning player of all time. He does not need to grunt; he pushes himself just fine.

Today I was watching the women’s quarterfinals, and I saw grunting taken to a whole new level. Yanina Wickmayer, from Belgium, was playing Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine.

There was grunting on both sides for a while, but after a while I realized that these were not normal grunts. Wickmayer’s grunt sounded like “Woomp-ee,” a sound I did not know was humanly possible, and Bondarenko responded with a high pitch “Eeh.” It was like watching a bad sex scene with too little contact and too much clothing. It was one of those sights where you could not look away. My friend was cheering for Bondarenko just so Wickmayer’s grunting would stop, but that was not the case. She beat Bondarenko 7-5, 6-4 to advance to the semifinals and will be playing Caroline Woniacki of Denmark who beat the American Cinderella story, Melanie Oudin 6-2, 6-2. In the other semifinal Kim Clijsters, from Belgium, will be playing Serena Williams. Clijsters is on her own comeback run, beating Na Li of China 6-2, 6-4. Williams beat Flavia Pennetta of Italy 6-4, 6-3.

In the men’s draw Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, beat Fernando Verdascco, of Spain, 7-6 (7-2), 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 to be the first man to advance to the semifinals. Rodger Federer, of Switzerland, beat Robin Soderling, of Sweden, 6-0, 6-3, 6-7 (8-6), 7-6 (8-6) to advance as well. The other two quarterfinals will be played today with Rafael Nadal, of Spain, playing Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, and in the second match Marin Cilic, of Croatia, will play Juan Martin del Porto of Argentina.