‘Everything is so different’: Wimbledon and the future of lawn tennis | Wimbledon 2022


Filip Krajinovic has been a professional tennis player for almost half of his life. He knows himself on the tennis court as well as he knows anything else and after 14 years on the tour he was so sure that lawn tennis was not for him that he barely tried: “Every year I find a way to skip tournaments, just got to Wimbledon, losing the first round,” he said last week. “It’s been the last 10 years like this.”

And yet, it turns out he was completely wrong. This year, at age 30, he arrived at Queen’s for his long-awaited first main draw match on a grass court at an ATP event, and quickly reached the final. He didn’t become a serve and volley player overnight, nor did he develop a bad backhand shot. He simply kissed the surface for the first time.

The events at Queen’s brought home the absurdity of the grass-court season. Most tennis players spend their lives building their games and growing on hard courts and clay, then all of a sudden they have to adapt to a whole new surface with only five weeks a year to do so. . “Everything is so different on grass,” says Briton Dan Evans.

Most of those early days were spent on the floor. American Tommy Paul recalls a qualifying draw match at Queen’s in 2019 against Alexander Bublik, who, predictably, spent the afternoon peppering it with dropshots and services under the arms: “I fell, I don’t know, 10 times. I was so down. It was quite embarrassing,” he says. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina had a similar experience at his first junior Wimbledon: “I fell like 30 time.”

Even playing on grass as a junior is a privilege some pros don’t have. Botic van de Zandschulp, the world number 26, had never even walked on a grass court until Wimbledon qualifying last year. He’s still just trying to get through clay mentally: “You try to slide around the corners and you try to move like you normally do on hard and clay, but it’s impossible,” he sighs. -he.

Only a few special players really get on the pitch immediately: “It was good. Everyone told me I could play well on grass, so I thought, “OK, maybe!” says two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of her first time on grass at a junior event in Roehampton. Then she shrugs casually. “I won Roehampton, actually.”

Petra Kvitova in action on the grass at Eastbourne. Photography: Andrew Boyers/Action Images/Reuters

With on-grass experience essential to success on the surface, many new generation players have struggled to adapt. The cancellation of Wimbledon in 2020 didn’t help. Novak Djokovic is at his ultimate level on the hard courts, but these days he’s an even bigger favorite at Wimbledon. Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev and Casper Ruud have not made a Wimbledon quarter-final between them.

A set of tennis balls seen by Court 8 at Wimbledon.
A set of tennis balls seen by Court 8 at Wimbledon. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Even now, as technology has improved and rebounds have become truer, accurate serve on the grass remains a dream. Serving up dominance often means that in some matches only a few points make a difference: “Movement is a massive part, finishing his shot is a massive part, the ball is always very heavy, Slazenger’s ball. They are so fast – the games. It’s small margins and keeping a good mentality throughout the games,” says Evans.

Then there are sore hamstrings, glutes and lower backs as players endlessly bend their knees to counter the skidding rebound: “You’d think playing a long game on clay would be the hardest for your legs, but a long grass game…I played a three-hour grass game last week and I was in so much pain. I could not believe it. I thought they would be quick and easy matches,” says Paul.

Many British players have produced career-best results this grass-court season, with Ryan Peniston, Katie Boulter and Jodie Burrage all beating top 10 opponents. Even the British players barely grow up on the grass, but they often have their first contact with the surface at a younger age. They basically have the biggest home advantage in the sport.

“I know some of them who probably haven’t hit a ball on the grass in 15 years and then come out and play really well on it,” says Boulter, who played on the surface for the first time in a under 9 tournament in Roehampton. “But then someone else, like Harriet [Dart]she played in a club with her mother from an early age and I think that gives us the upper hand with that.

Until 1974, Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open were all played on grass. While it was phased out in Melbourne and New York, and it sometimes seemed like only Wimbledon tradition was keeping it alive, today the grass swing is as strong as it ever was. never been since the ATP Tour began in 1990. Since the addition of a week between the French Open and Wimbledon in 2016, grass-court tournaments have kind of flourished in continental Europe.

Whether he can ever play an even bigger role in the schedule is another question. For those tasked with organizing events, costs are a big hurdle: “It’s a lot more expensive,” says Edwin Weindorfer, tournament director at Stuttgart, a grass-court event. “I would say it’s probably two to three times more expensive than a clay court tournament.

Serbian Filip Krajinovic (left) had never won a main draw match on grass before reaching the final at Queen's in 2022.
Serbian Filip Krajinovic (left) had never won a main draw match on grass before reaching the final at Queen’s in 2022. Photography: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images/Reuters

“Maintenance is a huge difference because grass is a living material and you have to maintain it all year round.”

Marcel Hunze, Tournament Director of the Libema Open in the Netherlands, the premier grass-court event in continental Europe, is even more specific: per year.”

The popular talking point now is whether there will ever be an ATP or WTA 1000 event on grass. ATP CEO Andrea Gaudenzi has spent the last few years trying to reshape the ATP and he has expressed hope. “Yeah why not? I think there might be a 1000 behind the ATP and a 1000 behind the WTA,” says Hunze.

Weindorfer is the CEO of Emotion Group, a tournament management company that organizes grass-court events in Stuttgart, Berlin and Mallorca. He doesn’t see it coming. “Personally, I think it’s very difficult given the magnitude of the costs it costs to run a 1000. If it’s a handset, especially. Even though it’s a 1000 tournament with a 64-man draw, you’ll probably need 10-15 grass pitches and a huge stadium.

As with many issues within tennis, everyone has a different opinion on whether the grass-court season could and should take up more of the calendar. “I think right now it’s a perfect swing,” Weindorfer says. “Four tournaments a week, 12 tournaments, six women’s tournaments, six men’s tournaments, then it goes into the league. I think that’s the ideal situation.

Dan Evans stretches for a comeback during a practice match on Court 1 with Andy Murray.
Dan Evans stretches for a comeback during a practice match against Andy Murray on Court 1. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Despite being a former junior Wimbledon champion, the mere thought of spending more time on the grass is offensive to Davidovich Fokina.

“For me, a month is enough,” says the Spaniard, who reached the quarter-finals at Queen’s last week, waving his hands in protest. “When I have more time, it’s better for me than playing hard or clay. I’m going to show more of my game. This month on the grass is about having fun, having fun, improving a lot of things about your game, and that’s it.

As she discusses the possibility of a longer grass season, a smile spreads across Kvitova’s face: “I wish it was longer,” she says. “Every time I finish Wimbledon I’m like, ‘Hmm, it’s sad that we’ve already finished.’ It looks like we just started and it’s already done.


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