Every tennis enthusiast would agree that one of the most beautiful sights in tennis is to watch players compete at the grass courts of the All-England Club in London. The sheer elegance which the grass imparts to the game of tennis takes everyone by awe. The grass is what makes Wimbledon, the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world, so special.
This is the surface on which tennis was originally played, however sadly over the years the number of grass court tournaments has reduced considerably, the grass court season lasting only 4 weeks on the Pro tour. A major reason for this is because of the high cost and maintenance which is involved with creating grass courts, which is why it is so rare to find grass courts and very few players actually get to play on grass during their lifetime. However, if one thinks about it, scarcity of grass courts makes this surface even more special, adding a sort of religious sanctity to the game.
Those who closely follow tennis would be aware of the astounding impact that surface has on the game. Each surface is vastly different from the other and offers extremely varying experiences of playing tennis. While hard courts generally offer more bounce, clay courts, on the other hand, facilitate top spin and sliding. Playing on grass, which is characterised by low bounce and fast pace is completely different from competing on the other two surfaces. Therefore, for a player to do well on the tour throughout the year, he/she has to change the strategy accordingly and introduce subtle changes in the game according to the surface on which they are playing.
In fact, it is this adaptability towards the different surfaces, that separates the greats from rest of the players on tour. One major reason behind the success of players like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Serena etc. has been their ability to fine tune their game so as to derive the most out of the surface. However, one cannot deny the fact that there is always one surface which is best suited for a particular player. While Nadal is referred to as the ‘King of Clay’, Federer is considered as the best ever on grass. Nadal relies more on top spin whereas the grass beautifully complements the Swiss maestro’s serve and volley game. Nevertheless, these players have still won numerous tournaments on all the three surfaces and this why they are regarded as legends of the sport.
Grass courts have changed the way tennis is played in more ways than one. It is very well known that the ball keeps low on the grass and quickly skids of the surface, making the game very high paced as opposed to clay where the ball comes on to the racket slowly, giving the player enough time to adjust accordingly and muscle the ball away. Grass, on the other hand, requires the player to be very quick on the feet and offers less reaction time. Swift on-court movement and excellent footwork are therefore extremely crucial to do well on grass, to be able to reach the ball in time.
Additionally because of the low bounce, you need to stay very low all the time, with your knees bent, something that is sure to take a toll on your body. But what makes grass the most difficult surface to play on, is the uneven bounce. The grass courts may also produce an unpredictable bounce to the ball due to the softer and slightly uneven surface of grass. This is why good serve/volley players are generally successful on grass as they are able to eliminate the element of surprise due to the bounce, by taking on the ball before it reaches the surface. Earlier, serve and volley used to define most parts of the match played on grass, but now things have changed a bit. Even though net play is still a crucial component of grass court tennis, players these days generally stay on the baseline and work out their point from behind.
Grass offers a beautiful balance of power and elegance, qualities which also define great players. Perhaps this is why it is every player’s dream to win or even compete at the center court at Wimbledon. It is not just an arena for playing tennis, it is, in fact, a symbol of excellence. We will once again relive the magic of grass court tennis when Wimbledon begins next week.