An English summer
The modern grass courts play very differently from the ones some 20 years ago. These days, the surfaces are not as fast and the bounce of the ball is both higher and more predictable.
However, even though the grass is now more similar to other surfaces, the transition from clay to grass is still the greatest adjustment we professionals make during the season.
There are a fair few factors which make this transition such a tricky one.
Firstly, the amount of time players are allowed to prepare on grass courts is very limited. The majority of players are able to spend at most a week practising on the grass before the tournament proper begins. This latter point is part of the reason that in 2015, Wimbledon will be played a week later to accommodate an additional event, thereby extending the grass court season.
Furthermore, getting time on practice courts can often prove challenging as there are far more players than practice courts available. When one throws the dodgy English ‘summer’ weather into the equation, one can see that quality practice time on the grass can prove a rare commodity.
Secondly, the movement one requires on grass is quite different from clay. The greatest variant is that one possesses less grip when moving on the grass. When observing the practice courts for the first few days, one only needs to watch for a few minutes before a player loses grip and tumbles to the turf. Owning a good pair of grass court shoes is essential – without soft rubber studs, changing direction becomes near impossible.
Lastly, the nature of winning points on a grass court is different from other surfaces. As I mentioned earlier, while the courts aren’t what they used to be, the ball still stays lower and skids more than on other surfaces. This makes it more challenging to return serve. It also makes it tougher to play defence and get back into points. The player who is best able to control the points definitely enjoys the advantage, which is accentuated on grass.
For some players, their natural games are well suited to grass. These players generally tend to hit through the ball more, as opposed to brushing up on the ball (which is more suited to clay courts). They are also typically more aggressive players, looking to take time away from their opponents, often finishing points at the net.
For others, grass courts can be a bit of an enigma. They struggle to find a balance between playing more aggressively yet retaining their natural style of play. They have to make more ‘forced’ changes, such as hitting with less spin, taking the ball earlier and coming to the net more frequently.
There are parts of my game which are well suited to the grass surface, such as my serve and taking the ball early.
However, there are other elements that I’m working on in order to prove even more effective on grass, namely, hitting through the ball more as my natural groundstrokes have more spin. However, I feel this is a minor adjustment; Rafael Nadal also makes a similar alteration when adapting to grass-court play.
I’m now in London and looking forward to the grass court season. I compete in two tournaments leading up to Wimbledon. The first is at the Aegon Championships in Kensington (also known as ‘Queen’s Club’) and the second is the Aegon International in Eastbourne.
My main focus is to be as prepared as possible for the third Grand Slam of the season – Wimbledon. The two tournaments prior to the main event will provide the ideal opportunity for match practice.
My secondary focus is to perfect the Boris Becker dive volley, although I sense this may prove the tougher task…